Charles Dickens


Studio of Theatre Arts, Moscow
Director Sergei Zhenovach

Young idealists read roles in a Dickens play.

Last March Moscow’s youngest theatre company – the Sergei Zhenovach studio - opened their new stage. The studio’s patrons in Moscow restored an old factory building for them, which had belonged to the Alekseev family prior to the Russian Revolution. One Alekseev, more famous under the pseudonym Stanislavsky, gave some of his first amateur performances there.

In their first production on the new stage Zhenovach offered his actors one of the stories from A Christmas Book by Charles Dickens, which from the perspective of current times, appears to be impossibly sentimental and starry-eyed. It seems, however, that only such young actors like Zhenovachs’ – pure, open, without any hint of cynicism – are able to find the right pitch for the script, but even they have to invent a formal device to do so. Initially the actors enter the stage one after another, slamming doors and munching on apples. Then they begin reading their roles not letting go of their scripts, as if going through them for the first time. The audience waits for them to settle into their characters and put their scripts to one side, but it never happens, and the play proceeds in the form of a reading for the entire three hours of the performance.

Many spectators are bewildered by this version of The Battle of Life, while some critics think that Zhenovach and his team lost the battle. Although from another angle if you are looking for similarities in this production then you need look no further than Dogville by Lars von Trier. In his parable Trier pin-points the contradictions in human nature as much as Dickens stresses their perfections in his story. It is impossible to retell these parables genuinely using modern language. Therefore the Danish film maker uses a formal technique unconventional in film production. He shoots his film on a theatre stage. Sergei Zhenovach is searching for the same level of formality on the stage and discovers it in a kind a reading inappropriate for either the theatre or wide screen productions. Despite all its superficial immaturity and naivety, The Battle of Life turns out to be Zhanovich’s most radical production.

Elena Kovalskaya

The lofty aristocratic simplicity which reigns in the theatrical space penetrates the acting style and allows the actors to convey unspeakable difficulties with lightness. The actors read as if at first going through rehearsals – humbly, simply, expressionless. However, their relaxed manner does not lead to character development, but a kind of human incandescence. And Zhenovach’s actors display such masterly techniques: they do not perform but allow a stream of light of different intensities and quality to pass through them.

Rembrandt? Dutch painters of the Golden Age? Van Dyke? Ricercars and English ballads resound quietly. The soft and intensive contrast of the chiaroscuro is intermingled with sounds and words, presenting you with a sense of fascinating artistic completeness.

Rossiyskaya newspaper,
Alyona Karas

It is difficult to find a production more suitable for Sergei Zhenovach than that of Charles Dickens. After all, whatever play he stages he always gives the narration a Dickensian flavor: he turns King Lear into a family history; makes the Idiot more warm and domesticated. His Gogol, Griboedov and Ostrovsky always slightly resemble Dickens. He is a successor of the branch of Russian theatre that started with the first Moscow Art Theatre School, from Leopold Sulerzhitsky with his moral search indivisible from his artistic exploration. And Dickens with his highly artistic moralizing suits Zhenovach very well.

Marina Davydova