Written in 1965, it follows the fortunes of three teenagers initially thrown together in a derelict apartment by the hunger, cold and desperation of the siege of Leningrad which claimed the lives of almost a third of its inhabitants between 1941 and 1944.
We first see them in 1942 (alone in the world and without family) when they form an intense bond which goes way beyond ordinary friendship but is constantly destabilised by the initially unspoken competition between the two 17 year old boys for the affections of 16 year old doctor’s daughter Lika.
Yet even in a city of corpses, as they scrape every last morsel of food, their idealistic dreams for the future remain intact.
Over time (we catch up with them again in 1946 and 1959) aspirations give way to reality in a changed country – the picture of Stalin finally taken down from the wall where it remained whilst almost everything else combustible was scavenged for firewood, the young men’s rivalry still strong.
Penelope Skinner’s well-judged version can’t hide the more awkward structural aspects of the Russian original, but Mike Britton’s detailed sets and decent performances – Joanna Vanderham (recently seen groomed to perfection in the TV series The Paradise, here grubbily bundled against the bitter cold as Lika), Max Bennett’s would-be hero Marat, and Gwilym Lee as aspiring poet Leonidik) – ensure that, though showing its age, this remains a moving and engrossing account of lives still under the shadow of the past.
Trafalgar Studios (2)
Whitehall, SW1A 2DY
Tube | Charing Cross
till 8th December
Photo: Simon Kane