Robert Tanitch reviews Vassa Zheleznova at Southwark Playhouse, London SE1
Maxim Gorky wrote two versions of the play: the first in 1910 and the second in 1935.
Vassa runs a multi-million rouble shipping line. In order to secure her business interests, she is willing to undercut her rivals, underpay her workers, blackmail, bribe everybody, murder her husband and denounce her daughter‑in‑law to the secret police.
The 1910 version is a splendidly nasty black comedy. I remember a very funny production directed by Howard Davies with Sheila Hancock and David Tennant.
The 1935 rewrite is powerful melodrama. Vassa becomes a symbol of the doomed capitalist class and pitted her against her daughter‑in‑law, a symbol of the socialist revolution. I remember a fine production by Katie Mitchell with Paola Dionsetti.
Rachel Valentine Smith directs a new version by Emily Juniper which is set in the 1990s and during the Dockers Strike in Liverpool. . I didn’t recognize either Gorky’s play or Liverpool.
There is only one word for this incoherent production and it’s skuchno.
Casting directors, however, wouldn’t be wasting their time if they came to see Sian Polhill- Thomas.