Oblomov’s Dream @ Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Oblomov's Dream cast list
Nicholas Osmond
Kerry Skinner
Robert Donald
Christopher Pender
Stewart Alexander
Andy Capie

directed by
Robert Chuter

Now in her 90s, Julia Britton is one of Australia’s most prolific playwrights. But though her intelligent adaptation of Ivan Goncharov’s nineteenth century novel was written some years ago it had not been performed prior to this staging at London’s intimate, subterranean Jermyn Street Theatre.

Idealistic and over-sensitive Russian aristocrat Ilya Ilyich Oblomov is affected with a near-terminal lethargy that sees him permanently ensconced on his sofa, clad in a tatty dressing gown. He’s stopped going out and even getting dressed, so sunk is he in indecision and apathy. Neither his mounting debts nor his still-loyal friends can drag him out of his dark, little pit.

His desire for pretty young heiress Olga (played by Kerry Skinner) looks like it may be able to rouse him from his malaise, but his indecision and inability to commit to any one objective for long threatens to scupper even this. As the title suggests, he dreams of more, of being happily married and content in a life of simple pleasures, but this seems forever beyond him.

Robert Chuter’s production is rather old fashioned, with its period costume and simple, traditional set – but fortunately the play is never allowed to get too stuffy; Chuter directs with a pleasing lightness and punctuates the proceeding with unexpected but welcome snippets of music by The Cure, songs which serve to compliment the play’s overall mood. He also successfully draws out Britton’s intended parallels between Goncharov’s anti-hero and the young men of today – vaguely unhappy and unsatisfied with their lot but unwilling to actually do anything to facilitate change.

Nicholas Osmond’s performance in the title role makes what could have been a rather ponderous and repetitive piece of theatre into something very watchable. His Oblomov is rather brattish and obstinate, and you occasionally want to give him a good shake, but he seems aware of the character’s potential to irritate and doesn’t push things to extremes. Kerry Skinner makes an excellent foil to the apathetic aristocrat, clear and credible as the woman who awakens Oblomov’s long dormant passions. Robert Donald is however less convincing as loyal manservant Zakhar, the weary parent-figure in the play – though his presence provides a necessary reminder of the class-specific nature of Oblomov’s torment. This is after all a man who has never in his life had to put on his own boots.

Julia Britton’s adaptation is a studied and subtle piece of drama though it could probably have made its points in far less than its two and half hours running time. It’s not the most earthshaking of plays but it provides a decent reason to brave the buzz of Piccadilly Circus and visit this charming studio theatre a stone’s throw away from the West End.

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