Iain Glen has withdrawn from 'Fortune's Fool' due to illness. He will be replaced by William Houston.
In a Russian country house, servants prepare for the return of the owner, now a new bride. We are in Chekhov territory, but a decade before Chekhov was born, and the charming groom Yeletsky is not just master but owner of all he surveys: Ivan Turgenev wrote this scathing comedy in 1848, and the lackeys laying the table are serfs, or slaves.
It’s not a point Mike Poulton’s perky adaptation labours, but it’s vital, because the three men at the plot’s centre – a flamboyant boor, a sympathetic nonentity, and Kuzovkin, the genial gentleman beggar of the title – are all, in Turgenev’s view, trapped by the system of bondage as surely as their vassals.
You cannot be a good man and own people: either you are superfluous, like Kuzovkin or indeed Yeletsky, who’s an ineffective think-gooder, or you reflect the system’s cruelty, like the crass vulgarian Tropatchov, whose baiting of Kuzovkin precipitates the play’s crisis.
On a deep, multi-layered set, these shallow characters skitter across the surface of their predicament. Very little actually happens: appropriate for a depiction of a stultified society, but problematic for a play.
It’s the quality of acting Ð Iain Glen’s wispily dignified Kuzovkin, Richard McCabe’s viciously amusing Tropatchov, Lucy Briggs-Owen’s deft avoidance of insipidity as the sweet-faced, swiftly confused new bride Ð that keeps us watching Lucy Bailey’s production, and laughing despite the tragedy.
‘Fortune’s Fool’ can’t match the achievement of Turgenev’s novels but its bitter foresight is similar: you don’t call your seminal novel ‘Fathers and Sons’ unless you’re pretty worried about the future. At Yeletsky’s estate and across Russia, the champagne flows Ð but the hangover may last forever.
By Nina Caplan