Review: Little Russians, Tricycle Theatre

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – First Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

“What’s the message, that we’re nutters?!” 

The final play in the first half of the Tricycle’s The Bomb was John Donnelly’s Little Russians, a black comedy about a Ukrainian family looking to make a quick buck selling the decrepit nuclear missile abandoned in their back yard after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Brothers Yuri and Andrei do a deal with wandering Russian soldier Vladimir to use his contacts to sell the weapon on the black market but his eye is caught by their mother Irina who then makes her own arrangement with Vlad. And when the arms dealer finally arrives, they all try to double-cross each other in order to get the best deal but the Russian/American joint force hunting for the missing missile are getting ever closer all the time.

With its outright comedic tone – the Ukrainians are given Irish accents here and there’s more than a hint of Father Ted mentalness – Little Russians felt really quite different to the rest of the works we had seen in responding in this manner. The disintegration of the USSR created unwitting nuclear states in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine who were quick to wield the bargaining card of security against Russia rather than surrendering them for decommissioning and with opportunistic mercenaries on the make in lawless tranches of the country, they posed a serious threat.

But instead Donnelly keeps things light with this almost farcical family clowning about with petty rivalries constantly coming into play and little sense of real danger about the whole thing. Tariq Jordan and Rick Warden carry off the swaggering brothers well as their ridiculousness is exposed time and time again but Nathalie Armin struggles as their mother in a comparatively poorly written part. Even when Daniel Rabin’s Dennis the Chechen, his manic eyes suggest humour rather than terror and whilst this was not an unwelcome emotion to be feeling given the scope of the whole day, it felt slightly at odds with it all and a curious way to finish the first half.

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