The concern with an adaptation of a traditional play or novel is how it will translate to a modern audience. The central plot of Mikhail Lermontov’s 1840 novel is a conflict between our Byronic hero Pechorin, played by Oliver Bennett in HUNCHtheatre’s production, and Grushnitsky, played by James Marlowe. After returning from war, Pechorin advises his friend on how to woo the beautiful Princess Mary, played by Anastaysiya Zinovieva, whilst secretly trying to win her over himself. It goes without saying that it would be quite difficult to write a story like this today without reducing the female character(s) to mere trophies.
In that respect, A Hero of our Time does have to be taken with a pinch of salt, but no more than a Shakespearean play. More importantly, this is a thorough and fascinating character study. Bennett gives an outstanding performance as Pechorin; charismatic and deceptive, he toys with the people around him to pass the time. He is not bereft of emotion though; he meets with Vera, also played by Zinoviera, an old flame around whom he cannot help but be earnest and adoring. The complexity of his relationship with Grushnitsky escalates, and his true nature becomes clear in the thrilling final scene. His narcissist with a heart of gold is energetic and animated despite the heat of the venue.
The modernised script creates a unique tone of the classical and the contemporary, comedy and tragedy. The dialogue is cleverly updated without losing the compelling story behind it. HUNCHtheatre prides itself on performing outside of typical theatre settings, “blurring the lines between actor and audience”. Any other time of year, the intimacy of the performance would come across, but during the Fringe there is nothing exceptional about the close quarters of C Royale’s underground studio.
Director Vladimir Shcherban has an eye for putting across the thoughts and feelings of the characters, particularly through tableau and narration. However, the physical aspects of the performance were hit-or-miss, and the pacing felt too energetic for its own good. Granted it is difficult to cut down a story of this size, and given how wonderfully written the script is it would be a pity to cut anything out. The performance may not give its audience the chance to catch their breath, but for audiences who can keep up, they are in for a treat of romance, friendship, and betrayal.