The Last Ones, Jermyn Street Theatre – Review

Taken place in the early 20th century, shortly after the events in Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Maxim Gorky’s The Last Ones looks at a family in the metropolitan environs of the city of Kazan. While Three Sisters hinted at the turbulent times ahead in urban Russia, The Last Ones takes place during the first wave of national unrest, which anyone knows their Russian industry knows, reached its crescendo in the 1917 Revolution.

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Sonya (Louise Gold) and Ivan (Daragh O’Malley) / All photos © Scott Rylander

While the Kolomiitsev family all reside in one house, it doesn’t belong to Ivan (Daragh O’Malley) the nominal head of the family and father of five, but his solvent brother Yakov (Tim Woodward). The brothers are as different as can be, with Ivan using his reputation as a retired police chief to throw his weight around and indulge in any pastime he chooses – whether its gambling, having numerous affairs, indulging in violence and taking bribes. His brother in contrast is solvent – affluent even – and in a culture where everything from bail to promotions are paid by bribes, Yakov is in an unusual position of power. While this sticks in the craw of Ivan, what really rankles him is he has knowledge of Yakov’s one-and-only indiscretion decades ago, but he can’t use it as leverage without cutting off his own line of credit with his brother…

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Dr Leshch and Ivan

Most of the Kolomiitsev family think of Yakov as a human ATM machine, forever thinking of new ways to play on his heart strings and relieve him of the ‘burden’ of money. Asides from Ivan, chief culprits are Alexander (Tom Colley) – who also works in the police force and truly his father’s son – and Dr Leshch, Ivan’s son-in-law and of the same ilk, though in a less ostentatious way.

The only people who truly love Yakov for who he is is Ivan’s long-suffering wife Sonya  (Louise Gold) and her first born, Lyubov (Annabel Smith). Both have a shared history with Yakov and are close to him, which certain family members envy and seek to exploit for their own ends…

Director Anthony Biggs – who also happens to be the outgoing artistic director of Jermyn Street Theatre – has an affinity for large family-based dramas. Last October he directed Lillian Hellman’s The Autumn Garden, which even though was set in postwar America, featured the motifs of a dysfunctional family and their extended circle in a large house, with affairs and past events driving the plot. Asides from this play, The Last Ones has things in common with JB Priestley’s Time and the Conways – particularly with the way the fate of the siblings affects the family and their wider circle. It has to be said though, that within the Kolomiitsev family, there are very few likeable or sympathetic characters…

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Police Constable Yakorev (Omar Baroud) listens to Vera (Kirsten Obank)

The youngest daughter Vera (Kirsten Obank) defends her father’s reputation vehemently, though when it comes to her father’s will impinging on others, she has no interest beyond how it affects her own freedom and happiness. Her brother Peter (Andrew Still) who is of a similar age, knows there’s something of truth to all the allegations made about their father. However, every time it looks like he’ll have the courage to talk to Ivan about it ‘man to man’, he bottles it. Much of his nervous personality can be traced to his mother Sonya, who while essentially a good person, lets the fear of scandal thwart any action of courage or decision that may bring true happiness.

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Nadia and Ivan…

Sonya’s son Alexander, however, has no such compunction about scruples or appearances. The eldest male sibling, Alexander is petulant like his father and expects his mother and Yakov to pay for any, and every, expense. He’s very much cut from the same cloth as his sister Nadia (Emily Woodward) who is married to the morally-flexible Dr Leshch. Asides from their values and temperament, Alexander, Nadia and Ivan are abnormally close, arguably obscenely so… With such a family – a microcosm of Russia itself – it is small wonder that there is turmoil from without and within. The only person who who come out completely unscathed is Lyubov.

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Lyubov and Yakov

It is arguable that for all of his philanthropy, Yakov is ‘weak’ when it comes to indulging the misbehaviour of his dependent family. Lyubov, in contrast, consistently shows fortitude – dropped by Ivan as a baby and left permanently maimed, yet shows her mettle daily. Even though there is utmost emnity between Lyubov and Ivan, the one thing they have in common is that they speak their mind fearlessly. Smith, who I saw play Rose in The Lighthouse last year, brings fire to the role of Lyubov. While only a small role, Lyobov – who is arguaby the ‘weakest’ physically ­– has more resolve and character than the rest of her family. Far from the being the ‘weakest link’, she stands out like an ember within a film of detritus and its through her eyes that we see how ‘infirm’ her family really is.

If this all seems a little harsh, the subplot involving a possible miscarriage of justice highlights the self-interest and ‘blindness’ that has led to the family and wider society to its current state of affairs. Like Edgar Allan Poe’s House of Usher, when the rot has set in for so long, some thing aren’t meant to last…

© Michael Davis 2017

3-stars

The Last Ones runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until 1st July 2017.

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