Not seen any Ivan Turgenev plays before and was told they are more 'English' than Chekhov which certainly felt true with Fortune's Fool, presented here in a version by Mike Poulton. There is an array of colourful characters and a mix of humour, warmth, cruelty and tragedy that reminded me a little of Dickens.
While Dickens will send his central characters on epic emotional journeys over many years Turgenev manages to pack in something that is equally so for Vassily (Iain Glen) in just 24 hours.
Vassily is an impoverished gentleman living on the charity of a rich family and has been for many years. The play opens with the servants being whipped into a frenzy of preparations for the arrival of the mistress of the estate Olga (Lucy Briggs-Owen) and her new husband Pavel (Alexander Vlahos). The frenzy is almost entirely due the estate's steward Trembinsky (Daniel Cerqueria) whose primary skill seems to be bossiness rather than organisation an, of course, it is the sensible footman Pyotr (Dyfan Dwfor) who picks up the pieces.
Like there is in any good Dickens there is a baddie, in this case Tropatchov (Richard McCabe) a rich, loud and snobby neighbour who takes pleasure in belittling and embarrassing Vassily and anyone of lesser means. Indeed he keeps his own impoverished gentlemen - Karpatchov (Richard Henders) - close by to use as a sort of 19th century 'fool'. When Pavel insists that Vassily join them for lunch Tropatchov plots to get him drunk and make a show of him which all leads to a shocking revelation.
Iain Glen's performance as Vassily is superb, from meek and bullied to cringe-worthy drunk and back again via remorse and a quietly affecting tragedy. It is a joy to watch as are the other performances which were also spot on. Alexander Vlahos seems to be popping up more and more on stage in meatier roles which is great to see and he is fast becoming one of my actors to look out for.
I prefer Ibsen over Chekhov and, based on this, I think I'm going to have to add Turgenev to the Ibsen camp. There was cruelty in the snobbishness and social divide but there was also colour and humour which made it no less affecting. Fortune's Fool runs at the Old Vic until Feb 23.
Of course at the Old Vic there is always the Kevin Spacey fall back but I don't need that as Alexander Vlahos was in Merlin with the lovely Colin Morgan and he is, of course, being tortured nightly by Mr W in Mojo at the moment.
However that was easy so I thought I should find a link with our leading man Iain Glen and I'm sure there are more direct routes but I liked this because of Hollywood connection. Iain was on stage in the Blue Room with Nicole Kidman and she was in the Golden Compass film with Daniel Craig whom Mr W has worked with four times now (The Trench, Enduring Love, Layer Cake and Skyfall).