Though frequently performed in Russia, the plays of Alexander Ostrovsky are still relatively unknown to British audiences. But with 47 works to choose from, it’s telling that InSite Performance have decided to brush up his sharp social satire, Larisa and the Merchants, for its UK premiere.
Larisa, the nymphet daughter of a gipsy, has many admirers. But the merchants who delight in her company refuse to “sell their freedom” for a woman without a dowry. Tired of being thrust at every passing suitor, Larisa has accepted the hand of a lily-livered bureaucrat. And when an old flame returns, she is tempted to shirk her responsibilities and dash across the Volga with the enigmatic Sergei.
In a full-bodied new version by Samuel Adamson, Ostrovsky’s black comedy about the politics of matrimony is brought swiftly up to date. Russia’s gluttonous merchant class of 1879 become our modern banker boys, fresh out of university halls and already drinking champagne from a teapot. Their cavalier treatment of Larisa feels tragically relevant to a society still refusing to believe that money and class hold sway.