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Eight tales of peasant life by Soviet Russian writer Vasily Shukshin were performed by Moscow’s Theatre of Nations with immense versatility and technique

Other than Zurich Ballet’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Theatre of Nations’ Shukshin’s Stories was another Hong Kong Arts Festival offering this year that is based on a Russian literary classic.
Little known outside Russia, Vasily Shukshin, who died in 1974 at the tragically early age of 45, was one of the nation’s best-loved writers, as well as an actor and film director.

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In contrast to Tolstoy, an aristocrat who yearned for an ideal of rural life, Shukshin was born into rural reality, in a small village in Siberia.

The eight tales on which Shukshin’s Stories are based present a vivid portrait of peasant life in Soviet Russia, yet their humour, wisdom and gentle examination of human failings, strengths and follies are universal.

Parallels with China are particularly strong – the power of family ties (for good and bad); the conflict between urban and country life; the longing for home of people who uproot themselves to move to the city.

Viktoria Sevryukova’s costumes do a brilliant job of evoking the Soviet period. Photo: Hong Kong Arts Festival
This stunning Theatre of Nations production by Latvian director Alvis Hermanis is theatre at its best and it’s easy to see why it has won international acclaim.

Hermanis makes ingenious use of a simple set – the only scenery is a long bench on which the characters sit, stand or dance, the only decor different sets of photos taken in Shukshin’s home village which serve as backcloth – while Viktoria Sevryukova’s costumes do a brilliant job of evoking the Soviet period and identifying immediately who the characters are.

It is performed with consummate skill by a cast of eight.
The piece is hilarious, earthy, touching and at moments deeply sad.

It is performed with consummate skill by a cast of eight whose versatility (each portrays a series of completely different roles, young and old) and virtuosity of technique (including continual quick changes, not to mention singing and playing the accordion as well as acting), are simply breathtaking, led in dazzling style by two of Russia’s greatest stars, Chulpan Khamatova and the company’s artistic director, Evgeny Mironov.