Burnt by the Sun

AMI JONES finds this play just little bit too Muller-lite.

ADC Theatre, 15th-19th May, 7.45pm, £6-10

Directed by Hugh Wyld

[rating: 3/5]

There’s a reason drama is generally dramatic. As last night’s performance of Burnt by the Sun evidenced, happiness – contrary to expectations – is by far one of the hardest emotions to portray onstage. Rather poignantly, the pursuit of conveying happiness usually ends up reduced to happy-film-montages flashing by before the real actions starts, or wrapped up with ribbons onstage as musicals or pantomimes.

So I have much sympathy for the cast and crew, who faced the challenge of pulling off an entire act of pretty much the most sticky-gooey-shiny sort of happiness you can get. A broad-shouldered and beaming Soviet war hero, Kotov (Saul Boyer), his pretty young wife Maroussia (Charlotte Hamblin), their honey-blonde pigtail-ed daughter (adorably played by what I presume is some locally-sourced kiddie) and their charming assortment of cuddly grannies spend a gorgeous and well-pampered summer wearing lots of white linen.

In the long slug towards dramatic conflict, the cast resorted to a variety of methods to keep things exciting – most off-putting was an odd pantomime-ish quality which hung over the beginning. Lines had a strangely hollow quality in their delivery, and though the script isn’t particularly written to include punchlines, actors did goofy things for laughs, furthering the weird pantomime effect. The slightly awkward, academic feel of the translation didn’t particularly help either. And although we had a stage of seasoned Cambridge actors, there seemed as well to be odd problems with volume and projection. Maybe it was just that some of the sound cues were blared so loudly we were deafened, but nonetheless it did feel a little like actors were shouting rather than projecting a lot of lines.

A drama which starts out in a Müller yoghurt advert needs an unnerving tension, a sense that all is not quite right - otherwise we may as well by watching a Müller yoghurt advert. We do find a few tidbits, but Wyld doesn’t seem to find the conviction to make them really punch through the cozy atmosphere. Kotov expresses some discontent with the remnants of his wife’s bourgeois family for reminiscing a little too fondly about the pre-Soviet days, but Boyer doesn’t quite manage to shake off the drowsy blanket of pantomime-cheeriness to pull it off.

When drama finally does arrive in the form of Will Attenborough as Mitia, an ex-lover of Maroussia disappeared for eleven years, the transition is bumpy and uncomfortable. Hamblin’s distress at the sudden appearance of her childhood sweetheart clashes with the cheery obliviousness with which the rest of the household simply accepts his return after eleven freaking years of silence. The final scenes of hardcore, proper guns-and-politics drama are played with far more ease and confidence, but still feel disjointed – though in this regard it seems to me that the script itself is pretty choppy, so who’s responsible for what isn’t always clear.

It’s a fiddly play to direct in your first foray, and it feels to me like debut director Wyld was just given more to handle than was fair with an exam-term ADC mainshow slot as well. With a few more plays under his belt, Wyld could very well be generating some slick, punchy drama – and I hope he does.

  • Pantomime…

    Have you seen one?

    • Pantomime…

      This show is not.

  • moss fan

    didn't ami receive the "most incorrect review" last term?

    looks like she's at it again!

    • And

      I wonder who actually votes in those awards? oh wait…

  • saw the show

    what goofy things?

  • http://www.varsity.co.uk/reviews/4736 WHERE IT'S AT

    i think you're a great writer but not a great reviewer.

  • SPF 40

    Problem solved

  • Saw the show

    couldn't agree more Ami!!

  • AJisanidiotagain

    Sweeping generalisations about Musical Theatre and Pantomime… hardly surprising from the Tab's most theatrically inept "reviewer"… It's as if the audience and theatrical people of Cambridge's complete lack of respect for her opinion isn't enough! Now she wants all areas of theatre to loath her.

    She is as cretinous as she is short… and she's fairly short… i've seen her…

    Pay no attention, theatre savvy people, go and see a great show!

    • That was…

      unduly harsh.

    • James Macnamara

      This is a contemptible comment, I'm surprised someone hasn't addressed it. Firstly, look up the word 'cretinous' and its etymology, and see what a poor word choice it is, in many different ways. What do mean by 'theatrically inept'? Perhaps in the same sense as your writing is 'theatrically inept', i.e. so inept that it transcends reality and becomes a kind of performance. 'Theatre savvy people'. Please. I very rarely reply to comments, on my own reviews or on those written by others, but I'm getting so sick of people with no sense of irony, and those who possess the tyrannical view that their opinion, or the opinion of a collective, is superior due to the agency behind it – rather that its reason, its argument. Address Ami's writing if you disagree with, argue your point. You dull, literalist, offensive *cretin*. J Xx

      • James Macnamara

        Insert 'you' in 'What do mean' and replace 'offensive' with 'insulting', and I'm happy with that response. Now I shall revise. Xx

  • Hate to say it

    But actually a fair review…

  • SafetyFirst

    Burnt by the Sun?
    How about Tab Tries: Sunscreen?

    • In this nicest…

      …possible way…

      This is terrible!

  • Hahahahaha no,

    I quite enjoyed that actually.

  • ADC in-crowd

    and proud of it. sorry friends, there's no point in posting any more slurs about the ridiculous ami jones. the tab readers (those who won't go and see the show) are on her side. because they're venomous people. like her. every single dislike this comment gets will prove this.

    the real problem is that ami hasn't actually praised anyone, or written any kind of convincing critique, in recent memory. this means that, as a reviewer, she simply can't be taken seriously, and whichever cast she reviews won't take the one or two good recommendations she has into account.

    maybe the tab should start getting some of us to review the shows? they certainly seem to have no problems with bias. and we actually know what we're talking about when it comes to reviewing how a production is staged at the ADC.

    • A.J.

      I'm sorry you didn't like the review – I did do my best to try and be honest without being overly critical, but it's a tricky balance to strike and admittedly easy to get wrong sometimes.

      If you do think Tab reviews are lacking in some way and could use some insight from yourself or what you choose to label the "ADC in-crowd", I wholeheartedly and entirely non-sarcastically would like to extend to you or anyone else an invitation to email me at theatre@cambridgetab.co.uk and try it out sometime.

      • ADC i-c

        Dear Ami,

        Thank you for your mature and decent response. Put me quite to shame, in fact, and I feel I misrepresented my friends (a few of whom are involved with BBTS, which might be why I got defensive) earlier by being a bit of a tool.

        My disagreement with the way you review shows does still stand, but that is an ideological disparity. In future I'll be sure not to mix up your personality with your reviews.

        • ADC i-c 2

          Hate to say it ADC i-c1, but I agree with Ami and would have gone further and given this a 2*. It didn't shock or move me in any way. Whilst the set was admirable, that was where the show's success ended. The biggest failing of it was that the direction wasn't strong enough to give the rapid changes between positive and negative scenes any coherence within the wider plot; Maroussia's nearly-rape was brushed over undramatically without any visible emotional repercussions, and Mitya's suicide at the play's close was awkward, unconvincing, and ultimately unexplained. Maybe I'm missing some highfalutin Russian drama point here, but I didn't 'get' anything spectacular from this show and as such would not recommend it.

          • whaa???

            I fear the fact that this show failed to shock or move you in any way says a great deal more about you than the show. Re Maroussia's 'near rape' by husband… well, crucially there is a WORLD of difference between 'near rape' and rape, and he, her husband, does not rape her…. so… unpleasant as it could be said to be why should there be huge emotional repercussions disproportionate to what DIDN'T occur?

            OK, but my biggest gripe with your gripe BY FAR is that Mitia's suicide is "ultimately unexplained". I mean please, theatre is supposed to be challenging! It's a medium like a million others that should and does embrace ambiguity and make you THINK. What is this passive desire you have to be soon fed??

            This show rocked. I am going again on Saturday.

            • um.

              First of all, your declaration that there is a "WORLD of difference" between near-rape and rape and your implication that therefore a woman wouldn't be very distressed by it borders on the repugnant.

              Also your refusal to engage with what that commenter is saying and just use the 'OHWELLTHEATRESHOULDN'TBESPOODFEDANYWAY' argument is pathetic. 'ADC i-c 2' seems to be a displaying a level of nuance and sensitivity you don't seem to possess. By 'explanation' I don't think he/she is demanding a fucking great signpost in the script. You can demand some kind of emotional clarity from direction or acting instead of having to guess why something as huge as a major character's suicide is happening.

    • ADC out-crowd

      I don't understand why you use full stops where commas would do, then decide not to put a capital letter after them anyway…

      Please sort this out before you choose to start writing reviews

      • ADC i-c

        Seriously? That's your response?

        I mean, yeah, because everybody uses capital letters correctly ALL THE TIME on internet fora…

        • But…

          Your punctuation was horrifying.

  • Dear AMY
  • ps.
    • true pedant

      the humour in you posting a link to oxford dictionaries while being unable to write "p.s." is not lost on the true pedant

  • Independent

    "Of course, reviewers should be free to express their opinions, negative or otherwise. But, to be respected as a critic, one has to show a certain respect, both to the writer and to the readership. This means approaching the task with an open, educated mind, free of bias or ego. It means doing a professional job – otherwise, we deserve no more respect than those writers who post anonymously on Amazon, giving their own work five-star reviews and trashing the work of their rivals."

  • Audience

    Saw it last night. Though it was crap. Spot on AJ!

    • Aren't you…

      *Tab* Audience?

  • I was

    really hoping this would have some photos of ginger people who had been burnt by the 15 minutes of sunshine yesterday…

    • Tim Minchin

      Fuck off.

    • This is

      one of the most offensive comments I've ever read on the tab. It is the lowest form of cyber bullying. It's even enough to see tab comments taken down full stop. (Library whispers 2.0 here we come!)

  • Human Being

    Surely no one takes Tab reviews seriously any more? They're just self-indulgent wank, not a thoughtful commentary on the show.

  • Pathetic

    Seems like there are a lot of Cambridge theatricals who have lessons to learn about dignity. This is a 3 star review. It wishes the director well in the future. It suggests reasons why the weaknesses were there – not just blaming incompetence. What more do you want?

    Really, this was a pretty poor play. The review is a little generous. But the cast and their buddies aren't going to be happy unless their review just echoes the sycophantic praise they gobble up in the bar post-show.

    Doing something on the ADC stage doesn't guarantee a show's success. Learn how to take criticism with good grace, instead of anonymously attacking reviewers you disagree with.

    • Bitter much?

      woooooaaaahhhhh can you say passive aggressive?!?!

      You clearly have a problem with the ADC and everyone associated with it. I would suggest this is because initially the ADC had a problem with you…?

      juuuust a thought.

      I think that may be the most unbelievably sanctimonious comment I have ever read, ever.

      STOP PRETENDING TO BE A PROPER PERSON: YOU ARE SO CLEARLY NOT A PROPER PERSON.

      • Pathetic

        I don't have a problem with anyone in the ADC, unless they insult critics for criticising them.

        The review was sympathetic and not even that critical. It's 3 stars, for fuck's sake, and that's reason to call the reviewer a ridiculous, short, theatrically inept cretin?

        I didn't even criticise the ADC. I clearly have a problem with everyone associated with it? I'm just pointing out that the ADC is capable (gasp) of producing shows worth fewer than 4 stars.

        I am being critical of these particular ADCers though. The ones to leave anonymous insults as responses to a kindly-written review of a sub-par play. But no, it must be me who's the bitter one. My bad.

        • Nope

          Swearing and using the screen name "pathetic" doesn't make you sound bitter at all… Learn to live with the ADCers, who do have some right to get defensive about their show (more than you do about another person's review), with good grace, rather than anonymously attacking them. It is possible that you are not fully aware of A.J.'s colourful history with ADC reviews…

          • Pathetic

            Getting defensive about the show is fine, that isn't what happened here. Here people insulted the reviewer. Which is pathetic.

            I haven't 'attacked' them. I haven't insulted anyone. I've insulted things people have done. Unpleasant things. You don't have a right to insult critics for criticising your show. That's what critics are supposed to do. She wasn't nasty about it.

            Also – anonymously? Really? Not only are all the insulting comments anonymous (as is yours) you might notice that there isn't any complaint on the 3 star review in TCS, where the cast would have to put their names next to their nasty little comments.

            • nope

              Well, for a start, please don't refer to them as "my" shows and say how "you don't have a right…". I'm just a reader, who happened to disagree with you.

              And yes, anonymously. My comment is anonymous. As is yours; you seem to have missed my point on that.

              Nobody read the TCS review, come on.

              The fact that you are still looking at this review and have been for the last 5 days is quite pathetic. That's not insulting you, that's insulting something you've done.

            • whoah

              chill, everyone. the show ended 3 days ago.

  • ObjectivePeer

    On some of the above:

    Yes, an ADC show is capable of getting less than 4*, but, having seen some of the shows elsewhere that do (and some of the shows that get 4* and 5*), I can understand the mild tumult in putting this particular show in the same category. Flaws in this show are small, compared to those of others, and easily rectifiable – problems were likely solved as a result of this review, even if the motives behind such corrections were bitter (I only mean this as a point of speculation, I'm not saying the cast were necessarily bitter).

    There's a difference some Tab reviewers may or may not appreciate, and that's between allowing the show to affect you, and therefore how you write your review, and actively seeking out flaws (or strengths, as the case may be). This means that some shows get reviews they may not deserve, not matter how it pitches them, and the result is one cannot tell the true standard of a show. Why should 3* at the ADC – because, say, it wasn't moving enough – be different to 3* for some fresh faces or a performance in a college auditorium simply because of the expectations people might have of a particular group of people. I'm not saying this factor isn't irrelevant, and how well a show matches hype should be mentioned within a review, but at present it doesn't work with the just simple star system.

    Perhaps if the theatre editors branched away from the ADC and the Corpus Playroom from time to time to remind themselves of what's really out there then the system may end up fairer, and there would be more reviews of the original Tab nature (humourous and against Varsity, not bitter against the world as they now sometimes are). There is still some hope, though, I mean read some of darkly comic reviews by Leo Parker-Rees, Caitlin Doherty's take on Sweeney Todd, or James Macnamara (MacNamara?) and his… good reviews.

    I digress. I thought this show was pretty good, and was finished within 2 hours, so didn't detract from the revision I wasn't going to do. Required some thinking about to get the most out of it, but I could handle it. Very rounded production with minor faults. 4*

  • TCS 3 Stars too!
    • Mr Nobody

      Ah! Someone else who reads TCS!