Review: The Grand Gesture, The Dukes, Lancaster

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MICHAEL NUNN writes...Halifax-based Northern Broadsides is now approaching its silver jubilee, and has only recently – thankfully! – included Lancaster’s Dukes Theatre in its national tours.

During these two decades and more, their repertoire has expanded to include some not-so-well known pieces from across Europe, and their latest offering is from Soviet Russia in the 1920s.

The Grand Gesture is ably translated and transplanted 85 years forward in time and across from Communist Russia to a strongly Catholic ‘port in the North West of England’ by Deborah McAndrew. The plot tells of a downtrodden, unemployed working-class hero Simeon Duffy (Michael Hugo) and his sudden attraction to doing away with himself as a solution to his life on the breadline and bleak absence of motivation or opportunity.

Nikolai Erdman’s original, The Suicide, portrays friends and family claiming his intended death as a martyrdom to their own personal causes - political, literary, religious, emotional and purely selfishly personal. These were momentous concerns in the post-Revolution years, just as they are in our present Coalition Britain.

This bizarre situation develops manically as each of the other 10 characters misconstrue, distort and baffle poor Simeon’s situation, with much comedy and farce, and there is a wonderful dénouement as the mayhem resolves itself.

In the more than able hands of Broadsides under director Conrad Nelson’s deft touch, we were treated to an evening which managed to celebrate the usually-sacrosanct theme of suicide in vividly-deployed action, music, words, dance, song and mime. The audience thoroughly enjoyed every manic minute of it.

A joint production with Harrogate Theatre, the show now moves on to the Lawrence Batley Theatre Huddersfield, the New Vic at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Liverpool Playhouse, Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre and the Viaduct in Halifax.