The Death of Norvegov

Youth Theater of Viktor Panov knows how to surprise the viewer and keep up with the times. On the last weekend of September, the theater showed the premiere for the entire North-West — a real theatrical mini-series of three episodes. How do you choose where to go? How are these three performances in one? How to watch and understand it? What feelings does it cause?

1. “School for fools”

We should start with a small review of the story by Sasha Sokolov, on which a complex performance was staged. This is the work of post-modern Russian literature, which from its first pages leads to block because of both the plot and the style. Having a great reading experience, I still remained impressed by the confusion, the randomness of the presentation; the reader supposedly plunges into the world of the Some Pupil, suffering from a split personality and, as it seems, very clever for his age. We see how one thought is replaced by another, and that — by the next, and so without stopping; to keep track of the chronology of events is impossible.

We do not know the time or place of the described events. We also cannot say with accuracy whether Some Pupil really suffers from a personality split, or his puberty period is indicated in this manner; and whether the whole “school for fools” is a screen behind which the most ordinary middle school class is hidden; but this is a topic for a separate lengthy discussion, including the story itself.

1/3. Basement

While all the guests are seated in other halls, I sit and wait for my turn. “Wow, I will watch the play in the basement!”, I think. A couple of minutes before the start me and other people who want to see the action in a place where the spectator has never been to the Youth Theater, are escorted right through the main scene; we enter a dark room through which we descend the stairs, go along the corridor and find ourselves in a small dimly lit room. Words are heard from somewhere; In the left corner there is a window frame of a complex construction, in the middle — a small fan, in the right far corner — cardboard boxes, and benches are arranged along three walls. I sit down opposite the empty wall, next to the sound engineer — later I realized that I had made the right decision.

For the first few minutes, I am sure that I got to the mono-performance part, but suddenly Sergei Azeev, the performing geographer of Norvegov, disappears into the dark. Instead, everything is accelerated in the change of scenes and time, creating complete confusion and lawlessness, there are other characters with their own stories and fears.

With a certain periodicity, luring dance music is heard from afar, completely unrelated to the grim action “on stage” and introducing into natural cognitive dissonance. I wonder where it comes from? Next time I need to find out.

While I am rampantly writing down the thoughts and ideas that come to mind for reflection and analysis into my notebook, Norvegov is bursting into the “scene”. I obviously missed something — he falls on his knees and in a fit, full of suffering, pain and madness, rushes towards the audience at my right hand; he creeps up to the young man, literally bows to the legs, grabbing his shoes; Moves to the girl, another young man, and then on his way is me. Having met with glances, I felt a trembling in my legs and a strange pain in my heart; when Norvegov fell on my legs with his whole body, I almost dropped the camera and did not fall by myself. At that moment I felt fear. Fear is not for the camera, but for Human beings. For a long time I can not forget this scene. Yes, this could not be forgotten at all, I guess.

2/3. Fireplace Hall

Today I decide to go to the Fireplace Hall, the floor of which is covered with artificial lawn; places for guests of the theater are located opposite and to the left of the entrance; the auditorium and the “stage” are modestly separated by the toy railway — will the train go along it?

Alexander Beresten sits in the center of the hall and lays out the cards, the rest of the characters stroll relaxedly around a small dimly lit room — the windows are closed with black curtains that do not let the light from the street, the chandelier is extinguished, only a couple of lamps are lit in the corners. The doors to the next room are tightly closed, and it is not known whether they will open during the performance. Three calls are heard, and again the action begins at all three sites simultaneously.

The main character of the Fireplace Hall is Some Pupil, played by Alexander Beresten (inadequate “I”) and Ilya Glushchenko (adequate “I”) — in my opinion, an excellent duet of actors. This part tells about the boy’s attitude, his thoughts and feelings, events from life. Also about the most important thing that was not revealed in the previous room — his love for Veta, a 30 years old biology teacher.

The door to the secret room opens and the “room-stage” floods with violet light. You can see a black grand piano in it, guitars and it seems like even a drum set — hurray! I will see a scene with incendiary music!  I think, but I am mistaken this time. Not so clearly, but the music is heard from another hall — the Main Scene. I get upset about it a bit, however, I don’t get distracted from the happening.

Compared to the first part (for me it was The Basement), this one turned out to be more neutral in emotions and impressions, less eccentric and inaccessible for understanding thanks to many contextual details and details. Let it be less impressionable in the plot, but staging it is the opposite: the toy train still traveled, characters appeared with death scythe and long boards (logs?), the water was warmed up with the Soviet boiler and something colored in it dissolved, a book in hand, on which a burning candle was placed, in a word, everything immersed in the atmosphere of mysticism and insignificant psychological pressure.

3/3. The Main Scene

How symbolically it is to complete the watching of a theatrical mini-series staged after the story titled “School for Fools”, an episode about the school and the class in which Some Pupil studies!

The Main Scene, that is familiar to the guest of Youth Theater, is transformed into something new: benches are arranged along three walls, the “scene” is without any decorations. Where you land for the next hour and a half, does not matter only in this episode — here the audience of each side is involved in one way or another.

The lights go out. After a few moments, the lighting reappears, and people are standing on the stage and moving, like a weather vane, which he placed on his Norwegian roof. Another moment and they rush to the viewer, stopping in a couple of centimeters from him. The appearance of Norvegov calms down the students of the school. In this episode, Norvegov was completely different from himself from the part conditionally called “The Basement”, where he played a key role. Here he is “darling” and the favorite of the students, their mentor in life. He, like Jesus Christ, brings good to this world, for which in the end he pays with his life.

The director of this educational institution with the “class of fools” presented itself in a new light — before this episode he was practically not visible, it is difficult to form a clear opinion about this character. He is and that’s it. In the Main Scene episode you can see his whole essence, the true nature, which destroys those around him for his benefit. Reveals the mystery hidden behind the fairy-tale “skirly”, the red thread passing through all the episodes; a nasty secret that one would like not to know at all. Only the truth and severity of life cannot escape, as the students of the school could not escape, for which they staged a real riot. It was here that I heard that fiery (and even psychedelic) track that I had been waiting for during the previous parts of the performance!

Of course, in this part, the main thing is not musical accompaniment, but interaction between the actors themselves, actors and the viewer. Especially for this production, Anton Chistyakov mastered walking on a tightrope — it looks fascinating, especially given the context of a fragment of the performance, where this trick is introduced. The actions of the students are perfectly coordinated, there is no delay in group gestures and (in my opinion, difficult to play), pronounced simultaneously replicas of a number of characters.

The interaction of actors and spectators is taking shape in a traditional “question-answer” way for theatrical productions: only here they asked questions about the school course of mathematics. At one point, the viewer can expect a long, direct, uninterrupted gaze, a kind of peek game; in the other – that the character will land on his knees in search of protection.

2. To sum it up

The directors Nikolay Dreiden, Pavel Semchenko and Polina Mitryashina managed to convey all the chaos in the forked personality of a student of this and that —  this fact is undeniable and obvious.

Looking at the first part of the trilogy, you are perplexed and do not know what to think. After seeing two parts, you begin to understand the intricacies, characters and their stories. After reviewing only all three parts and reading the story itself, you understand everything to the end. It would seem, you understand — in fact, a whole ocean of subtexts lurked in the work, in which only the Shelf project will help to understand.

Explaining what, who, how, where and why, there is a desire to look at the action with a new look — the look of a person “who knows”. As in any other series, you can watch this several times and still discover something new for yourself. The peculiarity of exactly this one is that the order of viewing the series is not regulated — you can watch what seems most attractive to you today.

Photography: Ekaterina Chashchina

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