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A Hero of Our Time, Arcola Theatre – review

“Was I put on this earth to destroy the hopes of others?” Oliver Bennett plays Pechorin. Photograph: Oleg Katchinsky

“Was I put on this earth to destroy the hopes of others?” Oliver Bennett plays Pechorin. Photograph: Oleg Katchinsky

Stage adaptations of nineteenth century novels have been popular in recent years, with deft tricks enabling directors to condense hundreds of pages of dense prose by Charlotte Brontë or Victor Hugo into an hour or two of dialogue.

Oliver Bennett and Vladimir Shcherban’s production of Mikhail Lermontov’s 1839 classic A Hero of Our Time, currently showing at the Arcola, is an exemplary instance of this genre.

The fast-paced narrative is bursting with raw emotion, spare impressionistic staging creating intense drama from the most minimal of sets and casts.

Three actors, a sofa, a carpet and a tattered paperback between them tell the story of romantic anti-hero Perchorin, his friend-cum-adversary Grushnitsky and his love interests Vera and Princess Mary.

Directed by exiled Belarusian dramatist Shcherban with Bennett in the lead role, the compact 80-minute performance captures the essence of the novel through stylised narrative devices together with creative use of sound and movement.

Scarlett Saunders plays both Vera and Princess Mary – and by implication, the female sex in general, which seems to be kaleidoscoped into a single person in the tortured mind of Pechorin.

James Marlowe evokes a powerful Grushnitsky, hard-done-by yet noble till the last.

As a meditation on bad behaviour, A Hero of Our Time is a morality tale with enduring relevance. Bennett and Shcherban’s adaptation is a powerful and engaging production that will linger in audience minds.

A Hero of Our Time is on at the Arcola until 15 December.

Arcola Theatre
4 Ashwin Street
E8 3DL

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