Fathers and Sons, Donmar Warehouse ✭✭✭✭
Reviewed by Mark Ludmon
Irish playwright Brian Friel took some liberties with his adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s rather depressing classic novel Fathers and Sons for the stage. While he retains themes from the 1862 Russian novel, his play mixes the gloom with lighter notes that director Lyndsey Turner has exploited for a production that brings laughter to balance the sadness.
Like the novel, it focuses on Bazarov, a young university student who is brought by close friend Arkady to stay with his liberal land-owning family in a Russian backwater. The floppy-haired firebrand challenges their way of life with the concept of nihilism, leading to confrontation and confusion before he finds redemption. Seth Numrich is full of intense nervous energy as the initially arrogant Bazarov but it is Arkady, played powerfully by Joshua James, who becomes the heart of the play. Just as much a champion of nihilism, he comes to learn he is stuck with the emotions and liberalism that Bazarov’s nihilism opposes.
They are surrounded by a rich variety of characters who are all brought to life with subtle detail and humanity by an excellent cast. Anthony Calf is charming and amusing as Arkady’s ineffectual father while Tim McMullan’s foppish uncle develops from a comic caricature into a man hiding a broken heart under his well-tailored suit. Even the maid has a yearning vulnerability played by Siobhan McSweeney. With a striking wood-plank set by Rob Howell and brooding music by Alex Baranowski, this is a sharp and compelling production about families and the need for love.