The latest play to open at the National Theatre is Burnt By The Sun, a story set in Russia, in the days just before Stalin did bad things in the Great Purge, of a revolutionary and his wife and family whose tranquil repose is rocked by the return of a former lover of the wife. The play was based on a film which won the best Foreign Language Oscar and the Grand Prize at Cannes, but I have to admit to not being familiar with it at all.
This play exemplifies for me one of the key strengths of the National Theatre does best: putting together high quality ensemble casts and allowing them to create the necessary atmosphere and feelings in which the play can unfold. Whereas it may feel that not an awful lot actually happens in the first half, I was swept up in the genuine camaraderie of the ensemble, especially in the group scenes around the table and the time simply flew by. Stephanie Jacob deserves a special mention for her comic turn as Mokhova the help, but all the actors really deliver here and set the scene for the events of Act 2.
And Act 2 is when the action really starts with events taking a different turn as the truth about the new visitor and his shared past with the family comes to light. Each of the key players here, Ciarán Hinds, Michelle Dockery and Rory Kinnear, do amazing work as painful realisations are reached and I was particularly impressed with Hinds’ command of the stage.
The set is based around a revolving house which provides a great sense of fluidity to the production, especially during the scene changes which merely feel like following the characters walking through the house and so all in all, this was a great night out which I really enjoyed. Following on from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, I did wonder if there is a bit of a Russian theme going on with this season at the NT, but it doesn’t seem so. Nevertheless, recommended!