Theatre review: Midnight in Moscow

By Paul Simei-Barton

Robyn Malcolm and Hera Dunleavy in Midnight in Moscow. Photo / Michael Smith
Robyn Malcolm and Hera Dunleavy in Midnight in Moscow. Photo / Michael Smith

With John Key's stewardship of the GCSB, farce might be the appropriate form for a Kiwi spy story. But in the hands of playwright Dean Parker the intrigues swirling around New Zealand's Moscow Embassy in 1947 provide the raw material for a sophisticated, entertaining and intelligent piece of theatre.

Although the story is fictional, the characters are based on real people and Parker's easy familiarity with the bewildering cross-currents of Soviet politics gives the drama an utterly convincing ring of authenticity.

Embassy life in the post-war era is shown to be cultured, dissolute and frequently inebriated. The urbane environment stands in stark contrast to droll recollections of New Zealand and the ironic distance between the two worlds provide some wonderful moments of humour.

The play opens with the scintillating wit one finds in Noel Coward but broadens to include erudite detours into Russian literature and charming musical items ranging from The Mikado through to lewd drinking songs.

The central spy thriller is deftly structured but sometimes feels neglected in favour of political discourse and considerable effort is expended on a rehash of the standard left-wing apologetics for Stalinist totalitarianism.

But the blithe spirit of the play's delightfully drawn characters glides over any slow patches and the superb cast bring an appealing lightness to their performances.

In the central role Carl Bland lights up the stage with a marvellously flamboyant energy, while Robyn Malcolm anchors the drama with an engaging portrayal of the hard-drinking head of the NZ legation.

Phil Grieve and Elena Stejko add a robust Russian flavour to the drama and Auckland Theatre Company's design team have done a fantastic job in adapting the play for its forced transfer, because of fire at the Maidment, to a makeshift theatre in the basement of the Aotea Centre.

What: Midnight in Moscow

Where: Aotea Centre, Lower NZI Room, to May 4

- NZ Herald

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