Sunday, 23 August 2009


To the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, for the very first performance of a new play by the sibling writing team of Vyacheslav and Mikhail Durnenkov.

In just under two hours, the pay follows hapless soldier Ilya's return to his hometown after service in the Chechnya war.

Ilya's head injury has left him slow of speech and movement - and with a highly dangerous intolerance for alcohol. And the authors make it plain that in this dreary Russian 'Anytown', having an intolerance to vodka is as problematic as being allergic to water.

So bleak and monochrome is the lifestyle depicted that hitting the bottle seems an entirely appropriate survival strategy.

Ilya's homecoming kicks off with the discovery that his wife has taken up with a new man, and that his little boy has no idea who he is. Then things start to go downhill.

An election is in the offing and each candidate is desperate to have an endorsement from the returning 'hero'. Cue high-definiton depictions of the boorish mayor, the loopily sadistic police chief (he has a Nazi weaponry 'thing') and the seemingly honourable editor of the the local paper.

I followed Ilya's entanglements with this unholy Trinity with a growing sense of despair and sadness, which continued to the play's predictably anguished conclusion.

By now you'll have worked out that The Drunks is not a chuckle-fest. And it was probably wise of the RSC to write to ticket-buyers to warn them of the play's scabrous language.

And yet the 'stage world' created by director Anthony Neilson, designer Tom Piper and the brilliant cast remains uncomfortably and insistently in my head.

I'd like the play to be a grotesque exaggeration of 'life now' in parts of eastern Europe. Maybe it is. Maybe not.

I guess I need to find out.

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