‘Black Milk’ is a black comedy for adults. It was written by multi-award winning author, screenwriter, and film director, Vassily Sigarev, a 26 yr. old from the Russian Urals made famous in Dostoyevsky’s novels. The English-born, poet, and playwright, Sasha Dugdale, translated this adaptation. The Royal Court Theatre first produced ‘Black Milk’ in London’s West End in 2003. This is the latest 95-minute, Justin Mosel-Crossley production by the adventurous and capable theatrical team, ‘Hand in Hand Theatre’. This independent company’s production can be seen at Studio 411, in Murdoch University each evening at 7.30, until Saturday 18th November. Aim for car park 4.
The scene: is the platform of a remote railway station in Russia. The set: Despite being ‘decorated only three years ago’, the green and beige walls are filthy and graffitied. There are propaganda posters everywhere, and a red hammer and sickle is emblazoned on one wall.
To the left is a small, meshed window, with ‘Tickets’ (in Russian) displayed above. Another small handwritten note, again in Cyrillic, is stuck to the counter saying ‘весь, целый’ – ‘All gone’. The central wall has a timetable and large (working) station clock. There is a large iron, potbelly heater, and centrally, two bench seats. Claire Mosel-Crossley was the Stage Manager and her assistant was Rhiannon Moon.
Shannen Precious produced the finely balanced, mood lighting design, which, with the use of blues and greens emphasised the dire living conditions. There were video visuals of the freight trains passing through the station, which along with Jordan Baynes’ powerful; realistic sound design was a technical highlight.
A tall Russian (Luke Gratton), dressed in dark clothes and strong leather Cossack boots (Costume Design by Ash Spring), speaking in a thick local accent, introduces us to the town.
In the Russian equivalent of Woop Woop, is an isolated railway station, where a ruthless teenage Muscovite, conman Lyovchik (Philip Hutton) has been selling his trashy, Malaysian made, ‘Wonder Toasters’ to the local peasants. With him is his partner in crime, his poor pregnant wife, Poppet (Sjaan Lucas) who has a penchant for Chupa Chups and cigarettes.
Neither of the couple likes the place or the people, just the money they can quickly screw out of the population before catching the next train out of town. They try to buy a ticket home, but the ticket clerk (Kylie Sturgess) moves at her own pace. The stinking drunk (Graeme Cross) who is lying on the bench, wakes up and annoys Lyov, before searching for widow Petrovna (Amy Honor Elliott) the town’s supplier of rough vodka.
As Poppet stresses about her bump movement, a group of dissatisfied customers arrive wanting refunds. The gang are led by an elderly ex-military man, Mishanya (AJ Lowe/ Cheka); two of the younger thugs (Aaron Hamilton and Max Conroy) want their money back at any cost. The two women, Auntie Pasha (Sharon Menzies) and her young friend (Rhiannon Moon) try to pacify them.
With about two trains a week, can they escape before the baby arrives?
The writer shows how even though the play is contemporary, the place has not moved on for a hundred years, and that the actions could easily be those happening generations earlier in a Dostoyevsky novel. The narrowmindedness of village life, aggravated by inbreeding is clearly demonstrated, as is the strong caring bond between the locals.
This independent theatre company (not a Murdoch group) is known for its quality. It only allows ‘select’ actors to join their team. The age range is very large, and this allows the actors to match the characters they are portraying – certainly no teenagers playing old ladies. Under the skilled eye of director, Luke Gratton, the company painstakingly examines the script to ensure that no detail goes unnoticed. They give a tremendous depth to their performances. As I have said in the past, ‘the walk’ depicts the inner character. In this community play, EVERY performance was superb, but it was Kylie Sturgess’s acting that had me mesmerised. Every muscle of her face showed her inner thoughts, whilst her arms ‘conducted’ logic from her mental confusion. A magnificent performance.
Philip Hutton was the husband from hell, who had an equally rough wife (Sjaan). They spoke their foul language with London East End spiv accents. A moving performance. The way that the locals treated these outsiders has to be seen. Please try to catch this unusual play from one of the community theatre’s best troupe of actors. Many congratulations.