Interview: Anthony Biggs (The Last Ones) (Jermyn Street Theatre)

Part of Anthony Biggs’ final season as Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre, Maxim Gorky‘s THE LAST ONES is a strikingly relevant and vivid portrayal of a family and a country in the grip of revolution, presented here in a new translation by Cathy Porter.

With a cast led by Daragh O’Malley, Louise Gold and Tim Woodward, and featuring Omar Baroud, David Burt, Tom Colley, Maroussia Frank, Louise Gold, Gillian Kirkpatrick, Kirsten Obank, Annabel Smith, Andrew Still and Emily WoodwardTHE LAST ONES runs from 7 June – 1 July, 2017.

To coincide with the announcement, we caught up with director Anthony Biggs to discuss the play and the striking relevance of Gorky’s work? 

What is the story of the play

A few years after the Revolution of 1905, Russia is in chaos. With the revolutionaries still posing a serious threat; the government begins a crackdown. At the heart of this story is a corrupt ex-police chief who now fears for his life after an assassination attempt on his life by terrorists. After losing his position and money he is forced to seek shelter in his brother’s house. Conflict between these two brother permeates the play and, as it progresses and various truths emerge, we see a division in this family form. It is a play about pity, self-realisation and facing (or more often than not, not facing) the truth.

Who are the main characters?

The main character is Ivan, the corrupt ex-police chief who has now found himself at the bottom of the pecking order. This play is as much about the whole family though than any individual.

What are the primary themes?

Revolution both in Russia and within the family. Change and how the characters deal with this. Pity for oneself and not for others. Self-awareness but an inability to act or change. Family relationships. Farce (tragifarce).

How does the work resonate today
The Last Ones is set during a time of much uncertainty where unease and change hover in the air. The characters are self-conscious but lack the will power to act and make definite choices. That feeling of unease and uncertainty must surely resonate with today’s political situation! Just hopefully people today won’t be so paralysed by their own fears and uncertainty!

What attracted you to the work.  Why did you decide to bring it to a London audience as your final work as artistic director Jermyn Street Theatre

I spend a lot of time rifling through old plays, usually in public libraries. I’d be been wanting to do a Russian play for a while and I’d been in a production of Gorky’s Philistines when I was at university years ago. The production was pretty poor but I remember how pungent the play was. On re-reading Gorky I discovered a wonderful story-teller, a real spinner of yarns. His characters are richly drawn and the world they inhabit is intoxicatingly real. At JST I’ve always tried to give our audiences something they are unlikely to experience anywhere else.

Can you tell us more about the Maxim Gorky as a writer and dramatist

Maxim Gorky born in 1868 did not have the easiest life: he was orphaned at the age of 11 and attempted suicide at the age of 19. He opposed the Tsarist regime and for a time was close with Lenin and Bogdanov’s Bolshevik wing of the party. However, when the Bolsheviks came to power and began persecuting poets and writers, Gorky became their advocate. As a result, Lenin suggested Gorky go abroad for the sake of his health. He stayed in exile until he was pardoned by Stalin in 1932.
As a writer, he has been named the Dickens of his day. Coming from a poor background, he had experienced firsthand the suffering of life at the lower rungs of society in Russia. His work depicts a host of characters from the lower social classes. Chekhov said he was the “first in Russia to have expressed contempt and loathing for the bourgeoisie” and he did so at the exact moment when people in Russia were questioning the way of life and ready to protest.

Can you tell us a bit about the cast?

There’s a cast of 12, with an even mix of men and women. Daragh O’Malley plays Ivan. He’s probably best known as Sean Bean’s co-star in ITV’s Sharpe, but he’s also had an amazing film and theatre career. Louise Gold plays his wife Sonya. Louise began her career as a puppeteer and voice artist on The Muppets and Spitting Image, before becoming one of the UK’s foremost musical theatre stars as well as a successful classical theatre career with the RSC. Tim Woodward who plays Uncle Yakov is the son of Edward Woodward of The Equalizer fame, and his sister Emily Woodward plays daughter Nadia.

What next for Jermyn Street Theatre?

After The Last Ones we have a comedy called Instructions for American Servicemen in London. Here’s a press quote: “Wholly idiotic, inducing a helpless laughter that almost incapacitates the audience… an unforgettable experience.” ★★★★ The Stage.

What next for Anthony Biggs?

I’m directing the West End transfer of the hit comedy I Loved Lucy, about the icon Lucille Ball, which had two sellout runs at JST last year. The production opens at the Arts Theatre in July. After that I’m off to become Artistic Director of The Playground, London’s newest theatre, where I’m going to be working on some exciting new collaborations.

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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