The Lower Depths

May 24 2015 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩    Depths hidden

Hidden Door Festival 2015: Fri 22 – Tue 26 2015

Dark and vicious, Andy Corelli’s take on Gorky’s The Lower Depths for Siege Perilous strikes all the right tones at the Hidden Door, but doesn’t always reveal them as clearly as it might.

There’s no doubting the suitability of Gorky’s great exercise in social realism to either its environment or to our times.

Michael Daviot, Nick Cheales and Robert Williamson. Photo Siege Perilous

Michael Daviot, Nick Cheales and Robert Williamson. Photo Siege Perilous

The Secret Courtyard’s Peely Room, with the grey paint flaking off the walls like a particularly obscene bout of psoriasis, is definitely the kind of cellar an unscrupulous landlord would hire out to a bunch of down-and-outs.

Moreover, the reality of life for the destitute in early 20th century Russia is as good a frame of reference as any to ponder when you contemplate contemporary ambitions for the welfare state. And Corelli starts off in a magnificent manner, his actors strident on stage delivering a lament that puts this very much in that place and era.

There’s real buzz and vitality about the performances too. Michael Daviot is magnificent as the unnamed Actor, perching above the action – ostensibly on the heat of a stove, but in reality on top of an internal room in this found space.

He struts and frets in quite the manner of the failed player: able to put on the big sonorous voice, but unable to remember lines. It’s a magnificent moment when he goes to demonstrate how his memory is gone and dries. Daviot brings both the despair of the lost soul and the triumph of one who has mythologised his own downfall.

Ian Sexon is equally appealing – and appalling – as the gambler Satine, whining and wheedling, and off for another drink with the Actor. Both have the force and presence to succeed in bringing Gorky’s realism to the stage.

There is preciously little plot to the play. Its a succession of scenes during which the dozen (in Corelli’s adaptation) regular inhabitants of the rooming house are visited by Luka, a tramp who has a way with soft words, reassuring homilies and consoling lies.


Nick Cheales has the right sense of blank calm for Luka, concerned for Kirsty Eila McIntyre’s dying woman, Anna, but equally understanding of her disconsolate husband (Ben Blow) who ignores her, begrudging her the illness he has brought to her.

Robert Williamson stalks around malevolently as the landlord Kostoloff, quite the petty tyrant: brave towards the week but servile to those who stand up to him. Kirsten Maguire has a truly vicious streak to her as his wife, confounded in her aspirations who wishes her husband dead.

All the while, Angela Milton’s Nastya lurks in the shadows, rarely acknowledged or even seen, inventing a life for herself through the trashy novels she reads.

The tone of it all is compelling, but where it falls down is in the technical aspects of the adaptation which, in this particular staging, sees six of the performers doubling up.

For a couple this is no problem: the differentiation is clear through costume changes and entrances. Blow establishes Myedvyedeyeff – Anna’s husband – leaves the stage and returns as Klesshtsh, the local police commandant.

For others, there is simply not enough distinction at the start of proceedings.

Daviot is particularly poorly served, playing both the Actor and the Baron. He has to create a dialogue with himself before he has even appeared on stage. With no signal that you are hearing two characters, it sounds more like the ramblings of a madman talking to himself.

Sexon fares a little better, having more physicality to work with between the wizened gambler Satine and the ferocious, lean thief Pepel. Yet there is little early indication that he is playing two different characters.

The consequent confusions simply detract from the production as a whole, which is a pity as there is much here to revel in.

Corelli takes his audience to the lower depths, but needs greater clarity in his direction and adaptation to reveal the truths which are to be found there.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Hidden Door Festival 2015: Peely Room Theatre
The Old Street Lighting Depot, King’s Stables Road, EH1 2JY.
Friday 22 – Tuesday 26 May 2015
Fri-Sun: 7.30pm; Mon: 6.45pm, Tue: 5.45pm.

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