Fortune’s Fool by Ivan Turgenev  

Fortune’s Fool, The Old Vic

Image: Sheila Burnett

The name of Ivan Turgenev might not seem an obvious one to pull in an audience over a bleak English winter, but the decision to stage Mike Poulton’s translation here for its first West End run is a stroke of genius.

Director Lucy Bailey gave us wonderful music (even when played badly for the newlyweds’ welcome); clever lighting; a stylish, adaptable set and precision movement. The scenes, in which these elements were combined, where the servants prepared the house for the return of the bride and bridegroom made a charming and engaging overture.

Turgenev’s work relies heavily on his childhood experience – the provincial customs, the hypocrisy of the nobility and the poor treatment of servants. Fortune’s Fool captures these themes in a human, comic and engaging narrative. Kuzovkin (Iain Glen), a gentleman, has fallen on hard times and has taken residence, in the linen cupboard, at the country estate of a deceased friend who treated him as a fool. The servants are awaiting the arrival of the new mistress, the sweet and infatuated Olga Petrovna (Lucy Briggs-Owen), following her nuptials to Yeletsky (Alexander Vlahos).

Kuzovkin awaits her arrival with anticipation, not having seen her since she was 13. Neighbours arrive in the flamboyant shape of Tropatchov (Richard McCabe) who has in tow his own ‘fool’, the bankrupt Karpatchov (Richard Henders).  They invite themselves to dinner, an event that becomes increasingly debauched and leads to a revelation that changes everything. Bailey’s deft direction of her fine cast of actors young and experienced, gets to the heart of human nature. There were times when the audience, partially complicit in the humiliation of Kuzovkin, was so still sometimes you could hear a pin drop.

This is a wonderful play, in turns comic, tragic and cruel, performed with panache. A real treat.

Fortune’s Fool by Ivan Turgenev, adapted by Mike Poulton, runs at The Old Vic until February 22.