Meet Barbara and Werner, an average couple having an average row. Except the row has been going on since 10pm and it’s now 5am. That’s a long time to keep up some bickering and, save for some relatively creative swearing, there’s not an awful lot that differentiates this row from any of the other commonplace fallings-out couples in any place, at any time, perform over and over again.
Based on Ivan Vyrypaev’s play, The Sun Line is set one month before the couple complete the payments on their mortgage. With financial obligations about to lessen, Werner suggests they have a child. But childrearing is really the tip of the argument iceberg here, or maybe it’s better to think of it as the ruse under which they conduct a meandering argument about every aspect of their relationship, past, present and future. As they argue, Barbara relays a memory of seeing Werner stretched out on their bed, his body sliced down the middle by a ray of sunlight entering the room. As she looked down on his supine body, she realised how she hated precisely 50% of Werner, whilst also loving the remaining portion.
Fittingly for a play about loving and hating a person in equal measure, The Sun Line has its own 50-50 split of lovable and irritating attributes. Perhaps the best element of it is the performances of Andrey Burkovsky and, in particular, Yulia Peresild. The script is deliberately repetitive and circuitous, but the joy of watching the production comes from the delivery of the lines, often spoken at break-neck pace or dripping with barely concealed contempt for the opposite character. Likewise, it’s in the physicality of the performance where so much of the humour and tension of the piece is expressed.
For this reason, it’s not an especially good play to watch as a non-Russian speaker. Almost certainly for reasons of space, the surtitle boards showing the Russian to English translation are positioned far over on each side of the Lilian Baylis Studio’s stage. To read them, you need to be looking away from the stage, so it’s almost impossible to watch the action with any attention to detail and read the surtitles. Which means that if you care especially about the script, you miss out on a lot of the skill of the performance.
Personally, I’d much rather give a performance in a language I don’t speak my full attention than laboriously follow every work on a lit-up board. Because along with the expressiveness of the delivery, there’s a lot to take in visually from Viktor Ryzhakov’s production. Stylist Anna Khrustaleva, for example, has the pair dressed in fifty shades of beige, their chic cashmere and wool cloth workwear giving them the air of Maxmara advertisement. They’re moneyed, yes, but the deliberate blandness of their outfits suggests we’re meant to read them as an every-couple, a prototype of domestic insularity familiar to endless other couples.
Which is where the less-lovable aspect of The Sun Line comes in. The stop-start scene format and repetitive script emphasise the boorish nature of the couple and the repetitiveness of their argument (which, in turn, is almost certainly one of many taking almost an identical form). Watching it, I got stuck trying to decide if the induced boredom of the work was one of its cleverest attributes or one of its worst. Was I being deliberately bored as a method of experiencing the impressive boredom of warring coupledom? Or was I just… simply… bored? Or, was it both simultaneously: a perfect combination of love it and hate it?
The Sun Line was on from 15 – 16 December at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells. More info here.