Fortune's Fool

Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 4 out of 5 stars
(6user reviews)
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 (© Sheila Burnett)
© Sheila Burnett

Iain Glen (Kuzovkin)

 (© Sheila Burnett)
© Sheila Burnett

Alexander Vlahos (Yeletsky), Richard McCabe (Tropatchov) and Iain Glen (Kuzovkin)

Iain Glen has withdrawn from 'Fortune's Fool' due to illness.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


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Average User Rating

4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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1 person listening

This is a strange play(script) but wonderful production. The first half was a warm comfort blanket, like a Russian Downton Abbey, balancing tragedy and comedy, levity and despair. The performances were incredible (unfortunately Iain Glen was ill by the time we saw it.) But then the second half took an odd turn into stilted elliptical monologues, failing to achieve the balance of before, and lost my attention. This is the play's own structural fault - it lacks the layers of Chekhov - but it's still great to see something different.

Mabel Armitage

It's one of the worst things I've ever seen at the theatre, I was bored after 5 mins It lacked depth and the plot was poor

Michael Barrott

I agree with all the other comments here. Definitely worth seeing. It helps to know that this play was banned by the Tsar's censors when first written in 1848. Whether this was because the Fortune's Fool (or - literal translation - The Sponger) is an allegory for the Tsar, or whether it was just nervousness in 1848 with all the Revolutions occurring around Europe I don't know. But this play is uncomfortable for Russian aristocrats whether in this rural backwater setting or from St Petersburg. My son wants to see it again - says it all.

Peter Maslin

We had the misfortune of going when Iain Glen was ill, and replaced by Patrick Creswin, who has previously played one of the servants. Despite this, we all loved the performance, especially Richard McCabe, who was simply fantastic. We were left wondering what we would have thought if Glen had played his part, as we thought it couldn't have been much better. I have seen many reviews commenting on the strange nature of the ending, but we thought that it was indeed happy, and the best resolution possible.

Harriet Jones

This is a play that has to be brilliantly produced and acted to succeed and my goodness this has been achieved - an excellent production with superb acting. Exhausting and thought provoking to watch but what entertainment! Iain Glen and Richard McCabe deserve a special mention but the rest of the cast are equally strong. The end of the first act is so gripping that the audience were squirming in their seats at what the unfortunate Kuzovkin ( Iain Glen) was being put through. A mixture of comedy and tragedy beautifully crafted .definitely one to see


It's well worth seeing - well acted throughout, funny and emotionally involving. Plenty of laughs, though these are more than balanced by melancholy and the potential for tragedy. It's genuinely hard to tell whether the ending is happy, tragic, both or neither.