Oliver Bennet plays A Hero of Our Time‘s Byronic protagonist with all of the charm originally written into Pechorin – in a confident adaptation by v&o/HUNCHtheatre.
An adaptation of the Russian novel by Mikhail Lermontov, v&o/HUNCHtheatre’s A Hero of Our Time tells the story of love and friendships ruined (made even more intimate by its small cast of three actors). Composed of international artists, the company offer a great experience of Russian literature and its idea of superfluous man.
Pechorin is the embodiment of the superfluous man (Russian derivative of the Byronic hero). Adeptly portrayed by Oliver Bennett, this character is cruel and sensitive, loving and cynical. For him, Princess Mary (Anastasiya Zinovieva) and Grushnitsky (James Marlowe) are just toys to play with and he hurts them profoundly for nothing more than his own entertainment. On the other hand, his emotions towards Vera (again, Zinovieva) are true and genuine, and do not decrease in intensity as the years pass by.
A Hero of Our Time takes place in a small room with a traverse configuration – the proximity of the actors working as a great tool to increase the intensity of the experience for the audience. Throughout the show, it becomes increasingly easy to ‘feel’ what the characters are feeling; their auras are so strong that they create the overall atmosphere almost on their own.
What left me surprised, however, is that Pechorin stays likeable and interesting throughout the performance, regardless of the damage the character leaves in his wake. Bennett, under the direction of Vladimir Shcherban, masters the difficult task of portraying a Byronic hero with all the charm that Lermontov likely originally intended for Pechorin.
Although the novel dates to 1839-1840, HUNCHtheatre’s A Hero of Our Time is littered with contemporary references; I Will Always Love You, for example, makes a bold appearance. Those not overly familiar with early 19th century international literature (which, let’s face it, is most of us!) will enjoy these touches, and moreover, it accentuates how stories of true love, despicable cruelty and the superfluous man cross boundaries of time and space.
However, it must be said that the production doesn’t quite live up to the programme’s promise that it’ll “[examine] the Byronic hero in our age of gender war and [ask] who are the heroes of our time”. Extremely engaging in terms of acting and atmosphere, the audience goes through a highly emotional journey with the characters rather than an intellectual one. What stays behind are the beautiful pictures, the pain, the charm – and for many, the knowledge that we would likely fall for Pechorin like Princess Mary and Grushnitsky did.