"Modest Invitation to a beheading"
by Jim Kelly for remotegoat on 15/11/16

Art-Vic's ambitious effort to stage Nabokov's enigmatic and untypical novel 'Invitation to a Beheading', though filled with smart work, is sadly undermined by what should be the production's greatest virtue - its staging. For while the dank and clustered basement of Baron Court's is perhaps the most cell like of London's theatres (though not without competition) it is ultimately too restrictive for scenes in which the ten actor cast do well not to tread on one another, but slighter less well at everything else.

It's a pity for in quieter scenes the set offers a powerful backdrop to a claustrophobic fantasy; the tale of the unfortunate Cincinnatus, a man condemned to death for an obscure crime, yet denied the opportunity to know the date of his death. Garry Voss in the title role lends the production heart with a measured, naturalistic performance that is an effective counterpoint to the mayhem about him. His performance is aided by some intelligent direction from David Parry, whose clever costuming suggests that the story's other characters, revved up absurdist stereotypes of gaolers, prison wardens, lawyers and Cincinnatus' variously unfaithful friends and family, are somehow kin to the title character. (Of this supporting cast Adrian Gawell is the pick pulling the neat trick of seeming both genuinely menacing, and yet behaving with often exquisite gentleness, as the prison's demented guard Rodion).

Even so the absurdity aimed at however never quite takes flight. The stage is simply too confined for the cast to give the energetic gesture-laden performances the production appears to demand of them. This particularly true in scenes in which the world beyond the prison intrudes. Rather than opening out the world of the play to reflect the title character's fantasies it all grows prosaic as actors denied the space to interact meaningfully are largely obliged to dictate their lines with weightless gravity. Timing suffers, some words are lost, it's not quite fun.

For Nabokov fans however this adaptation, though not wholly successfully, is a rare treat remaining largely faithful to both the book's plot and more elusive tone capturing just enough of its humour and strangeness that you won't feel shortchanged.

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