Thursday 28 June 2018, opening night of Bob The Russian at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool – the stage was set as the audience filed in: loud music blared, five silhouetted figures were seen on the semi-darkened stage – three of them looking extra menacing wearing helmets. Smoke billowed around them and the interrogation of Bob The Russian started. From the first tense moment to the closing seconds the large cast from the Naughty Corner Production team had the audience enthralled.
This production of Bob The Russian, directed by Mikee Dickinson, is a prime example of realism in theatre. This show exhibited the reasons why Naughty Corner are multi-award winners in theatre.
They filled the stage with believable everyday characters in this skilfully portrayed story of the heist of the century using the 2018 World Cup in Russia as a backdrop. From the gold chain, Adidas-wearing Demon to the Ian McKellan-loving Russian Mafia kingpin the cast captured the complete attention of the audience. This black comedy was drenched with fast moving sharply observed dialogue (with only a handful of first night hesitations in the whole performance of over 80 minutes).
This was a beautifully choreographed piece of theatre depicting the mayhem of hooligans and police in conflict, whilst also revealing the vulnerabilities and tenderness of many characters as they live their dreams.
The comedy and multi-dimensional aspects of the realist characters, as well as the generous sprinkling of anti-type characters, were cleverly portrayed when a Mafia henchman minces off the stage after cleaning up the blood of a recently murdered person; and then, as the Mafia boss (‘Friend Zarin’ portrayed by Thomas Galashan) delivers his energetic and dramatic monologue, one of the bank robbers decides that it is the perfect time to partake of a delicious, aromatic snack. This was one of many points where the audience laughed heartily – the portrayal of humour started in the first scene and continued to the very end of the performance.
The portrayal of the fight sequences are movement perfect and reminiscent of the finest ballet and gymnastic combined, with the delicate touch of mime included. With comedic genius the cast performs potentially terrifying real-life incidents like a fracas between English and Russian football supporters, while the larger than life character of Lyles Laru – failed magician and bank robber – casually strolls in the midst of them strumming his guitar like the rock god he believes himself to be.
Throughout this production all the scene changes were seamless and it felt like a rollercoaster of closely associated events. One thing to note – don’t forget to breath! It’s easily forgotten when taken up in the drama unfolding on the stage and in the auditorium.
The characterisations of the five main members of the heist team were robust from the titular Bob The Russian (Adam Leyland), with his perfect depiction of a Russian accent; Demon (Liam Powell-Berry), the brash and lairy stereotypical football supporter; Inhaler (Callum Forbes), the posh-lad lock-breaker; Child (Daniel Hubbard) – who could be any one of us; and Lyles (Adam Nicholls) with his larger than life personality, to Rita (Laura Connolly) with her black belt in … I’ll let you find that out for yourself; but the rest of this large cast should not be overlooked – without them this performance would not be the brilliant spectacle it is.
A lively soundtrack, including ‘I’m so in Love With You’ accompanies the height of the actions where Demon correctly state, “agility is key”. The show ends on the track ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ by the Verve – perfectly summarising this performance: a symphony of drama, dialogue, direction. There is so much going on in this show, all of it relevant and necessary to the story.
Bob The Russian is outstanding theatre that deserves at least two viewings. Maybe more.
Showing at Unity Theatre, Liverpool until Saturday 30 June 2018.
© Marjorie H Morgan 2018