The March on Russia (Orange Tree Theatre)

★★★★★ "Alice Hamilton’s exemplary revival" The Telegraph ★★★★ "There could no better tribute to David Storey" The Guardian ★★★★ Evening Standard ★★★★ Time Out ★★★★ The Times ★★★★ The Observer ★★★★ The Sunday Times ★★★★ Sunday Express ★★★★ WhatsOnStage 

Sophie was Casting Consultant for The Orange Tree Theatre on this poignant and timely revival of David Storey’s play, 'A March On Russia' -  it's first major production since premiering at the National Theatre in 1989.

A good wife. Home. Children. I don’t know what else it’s all about.

The memory of a family. The memory of a country. The memory of a moment when people hoped for more.

As the Pasmores prepare to mark their sixtieth wedding anniversary, their three children surprise them by returning home to celebrate.

A warm, funny, moving evocation of a family and a way of life retreating into old age, retirement bungalows and modern middle class life. Storey’s play is written with profound affection for a family struggling with change but bound together by love.

Alice Hamilton and Up in Arms return to the Orange Tree following their critically acclaimed production of Robert Holman’s German Skerries with a play that typifies the warmth and human detail of Up In Arms’ work.

★★★★ The Times, Dominic Maxwell:

'At the heart of Hamilton’s production is a terrific performance by Ian Gelder. Gelder plays Tom, Yorkshire grit through and through. Except that in the script he’s not Tom, but always Mr Pasmore, in tribute to a time when even the working classes had pride and politesse. Pride and dignity are the warp and weft of this story. We never hear quite what the Pasmores think about living in a bungalow bought by their urbane academic son, but we hear enough to guess.

Storey, who died this year, had a natural ear for the rhythms of domestic bickering; Hamilton matches it with a knack for articulating emotion in the rituals of domestic life. Who makes the toast — and how — has never seemed so loaded with tension.

Sophia Simensky’s costumes artfully delineate just how far each of the three siblings has come from their working-class roots. Colin Tierney’s smooth, unsettled Colin has spent enough time in universities to mask his accent; divorced local councillor Wendy, a superb Sarah Belcher, still has Macclesfield vowels, but sharp tailoring. Only Connie Walker’s graceless Eileen, all over-eager smiles and seething resentment, is still swathed in hand-me-down lumpy sweaters, being the wife of an unsuccessful teacher.

The title turns out to refer to one of Tom’s old war stories, touched on only lightly. But everything is touched on only lightly in this gentle handling, a rare example of subtlety in kitchen-sink family drama. Deft.'

★★★★ The Guardian, Susannah Clapp. 'Sue Wallace and Ian Gelder are outstanding as a bickering elderly couple in David Storey’s play about a family reunion':

'The March on Russia, set in a retirement bungalow near the Yorkshire coast in 1989, has an intense naturalism that suggests personal experience: Storey bought his own parents such a bungalow. It might have been written to prove that lack of dramatic action does not mean dramatic inertia. This is an evening when a tiny movement, such as a light and unexpected kiss, can send a gasp and a sigh through the audience.

In Alice Hamilton’s finely calibrated production all the performances are lively. But the evening belongs to the jubilee couple. To Ian Gelder, habitually jaunty but invaded by bewilderment and sudden sadness. His cheeks slowly drop towards his slippers. And to Sue Wallace as his wife, her snappy terseness – “There’s feelings and feelings” – undermined by anxiety. There is no explosion, but continual upset. James Perkins’s design makes a complete world out of two rooms. Only the kettle looks wrong. Surely this couple wouldn’t have had an electric jug? It is a tribute to the play that you feel you know them well enough to question it.'

★★★★ The Guardian, Michael Billington:

'Hamilton’s production [is] rooted in domestic detail. Sue Wallace is particularly fine as Mrs Pasmore, whom she plays as an outwardly plucky figure whose sadness is revealed only in her eyes. [Ian Gelder] he captures perfectly Pasmore’s surface bravado and secret vulnerability.

Eileen’s character is underwritten but Colin Tierney is morosely haunted as Colin, and Sarah Belcher pinpoints Wendy’s festering filial resentment. Storey’s play survives as a deeply moving study of the quiet despair behind the materialist orthodoxy of the 1980s.'

★★★★ Time Out, Miriam Gillinson:

'Director Alice Hamilton has coaxed out some rich and instinctive performances, played out in the gloomy intimacy of James Perkins’ cramped and fire-lit home. Colin Tierney is suitably brooding as the adrift and academic son, Connie Walker’s ‘stay at home mum’ has a fuzzy warmth about her, and Sarah Belcher, as daughter and politician Wendy, has a restless intelligence that constantly threatens to sprout legs and leave.

Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace captivate as an aging couple caught in the same old patterns, utterly dependent on each other yet – somehow – isolated and alone. Their banter is bang-on and brilliantly funny (‘I’m not bickering. He is!’), but the flashes of gratitude and regret pierce deeply. And while this is a play about family above all, national politics lurk in the shadows. It all sounds horribly familiar when Mrs Passmore despairs: ‘I’ve never known such a rubbish generation.’ It’s a hard sentiment to swallow and yet these characters have been written with such compassion and intelligence that our eyes stay on them, even as they exit the stage.'

★★★★ Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford:

'Mr and Mrs Pasmore (Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace, both excellent) are about to celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary in their retirement bungalow in Yorkshire. Unexpectedly, their three adult children return home for the day. A wistful, elegiac tone underpins much humour, as Storey exquisitely captures the daily rhythms of long-married, low-level bickering.'

★★★★ whatsonstage.com, Sarah Crompton:

'There's a strongly autobiographical element in the play. Storey, who died this March, was a miner's son who, like the writer son Colin in the play, bought his parents a bungalow on the back of his big success The Changing Room. It is perhaps that which makes this play feel so brutally truthful. It's sharp and funny in its depiction of the patterns of family life kept afloat on a sea of tea, but bleak too as it peels away the platitudes to find the sadness beneath.

You see this particularly in the figure of Mr Pasmore, beautifully played with a sort of game resignation by Ian Gelder. He comes to life when he remembers his time in the Royal Navy Air Force in 1917, travelling to the Crimea to try to save the Tsar, a bright spot of colour in a life of servitude. Gelder tells the story wonderfully, managing to balance the poetry in Storey's writing with the rhythm of speech. 

In this mundane setting, a convincing family emerges. Sue Wallace is stern and sharp tongued as the resistant Hilda, for whom a dirty towel has become enough to ruin a marriage. Colin Tierney, Sarah Belcher and Connie Walker lend strong support as the children, all in clearly differentiated ways struggling with dislocation and loss.'

★★★★ The Stage, Tom Wicker, 'Powerfully Affecting':

'Alice Hamilton returns to the Orange Tree after directing Robert Holman’s German Skerries in 2016. She demonstrates the same confident grasp of the power of stillness here. She brings out every detail of Storey’s finely textured portrayal of a marriage in later years, as the Pasmores move painfully through daily routines.

Anxiety about change throbs away, as the Pasmores’ son Colin grapples with depression and their daughter Wendy prepares for a divorce. There’s a mournful truthfulness, sketched out beautifully by Storey, to the way that this has become a family of strangers, whose feelings only escape in snipes and asides.

Colin Tierney, Sarah Belcher and Connie Walker do good, nuanced work as the fractious siblings, but this production belongs to Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace as the Pasmores. You feel the weight of the years in their every bitterly funny jibe, but also the love. It stings.'

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