Interactive humorous poem and love tragedy. All about 'Chernomor's Notes' performance

October 21, 2019

The Drama and Directing Centre saw the premiere of the all-age play 'Chernomor's Notes'. The story of the chief antagonist of 'Ruslan and Lyudmila' poem by Pushkin was staged by Director Vyacheslav Ignatov, one of the authors of Trickster Theatre and winner of the Golden Mask prize. Read in the article by about what the character is really like and how the production was created.

Audience above all

'Chernomor's Notes' is a one-man performance. Chernomor, a villain with a long coloured beard (actor Sergei Melkonyan), recalls his past crimes, struggling with Ruslan and falling in love with Lyudmila. The actor employs shadow theatre for his story, a video projection with a giant talking head and a huge portable screen to change the stage space. The scenery was made by artists from Germany — Olga and Yelena Bekritsky.

The audience helps the actor to tell the story. Children are delighted to take the stage, as they can change into armour, ride on soft plush ball-shaped horses or fight with toy swords. Occasionally, adults take part in the performance, too. You can become Lyudmila, or a legendary hero, Ruslan's rival, and other characters.

Photo: Maxim Denisov

'Pushkin's poem has quite a lot of characters, but we have a one-man show. Sergei is surely capable of playing many parts, but still he needs assistants sometimes. During rehearsals, we came up with the scenes he just could not cope with alone. So it is even more than just an interactive production,’ said Maria Litvinova, performance's producer.

Sergei Melkonyan, a winner of international awards, a teacher of children's theatre studios, Valery Garkalin’s student and a leading actor of Dmitry Krymov Laboratory Theatre, has already cooperated with Director Vyacheslav Ignatov. Regular viewers of the Drama and Directing Centre know him acting in another interactive play, 'School of Sleep'. Another joint work is 'Watch Out, Elves!' at the Theatre of Nations. He believes that if you interact with the audience, you have to be ready for anything.

'In theory, we can predict possible audience's response to this or that action, as we have an experience of such performances. But we can say whether this or that joke or scene is a good one only when the audience is already here. Ideas and improvisations of the audience are the basic play's drivers,' says the actor.

The performance is recommended for 8+ audience. But that doesn't mean it's for kids only. Children want a fascinating story about beauties, heroes, kidnapping and the triumph of good over evil. For adults, it is an opportunity to take a fresh look at the well-known story.

'It is very difficult to get adults come to the theatre to watch 'Ruslan and Lyudmila'. They only come with children. But Pushkin wrote this poem for adults. Children do not perceive its implication. Miracles and magic are all they want. I think children get an improper presentation of the poem at school, so they are unwilling to revisit it later. But in fact, the poem is full of humour, which we reveal during our play,' says Director Vyacheslav Ignatov.

A villain with a big heart 

Vyacheslav Ignatov and Maria Litvinova  came up with the idea of a one-man performance about the chief villain of Pushkin's poem a year ago, when they were staging a street performance 'Ruslan and Lyudmila' together with their Trickster Theatre. Chernomor did not took part in it. They decided to change it, giving him the opportunity to speak out in a separate performance.

'We have some bad stereotyped opinion about Chernomor, but he did everything to make Lyudmila love him. Yes, he kidnapped her, but there was no other way out, otherwise it would have been too late, as she was already getting married. So he took the only chance to impress her. He didn't want to take her by force, he wanted her to fall in love with him,' says Vyacheslav Ignatov.

Sergei Melkonyan, too, believes that his character just wants to love and be loved.

Photo: Maxim Denisov

'In fact, he is really a heart-stirring person. Everyone knows him as a villain, but we show him as a very gentle person who truly loves Lyudmila. He wants to give her all his treasures, but he knows that she doesn't love him. And that's the thing. He tells that there were true villains in his time, and so there were true heroes, too. Today's people are shallow, there are no villains as great as him,' says the actor.

Vyacheslav Ignatov emphasises that this is not a new interpretation of Chernomor's image, since Pushkin expressed the same opinion. By the way, there are no deviations from the original text in the performance, except for jokes made for audience. The text remained unchanged, but slightly shortened.

'Chernomor's Notes' authors  

Director Vyacheslav Ignatov and producer Maria Litvinova regularly come up with theatrical hits. Graduates of the Theatre Arts Academy in St. Petersburg, they worked for ten years at the Ten (Shadow) Theatre. Their performance 'Lilikan Epic', awarded by the Golden Mask prize, is still running.

For 11 years, from 2005 to 2016, they collaborated with the Praktika Theatre. In 2010, they decided to create a children's theatre Trickster, to combine shadow theatre and puppet performances.

Today, the theatre boasts about 26 performances staged, running on both Russian and foreign stages, in Germany and the United Kingdom. Trickster participated in the projects of the Meyerhold Centre, the Theatre of Nations, the Territory festival. They staged a choreographed play 'Body Parts' together with Boroditsky Dennis Dance Company. The Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre staged their 'Journey to the Land of Jambles' with music by Pyotr Pospelov. In 2016, it received the Golden Mask award. 

For three years, Trickster has been a resident of the Drama and Directing Centre. In addition to 'Chernomor's Notes', it runs now an interactive performance 'School of Sleep', usually sold-out. Its spectators become students of a fictional school, where they study sleeping as the only and the most important science. They are given slippers and nightgowns. There is a huge bed to lie down instead of seats. They are all taught to sleep in a proper way: academicians of yawning and snoring masters teach how to do yawning best and what lullabies to listen to.

Also, the Drama and Directing Centre runs the shadow performance  'The Tale That Was Never Written' and puppet show 'Robot Fairy-Tales About a Real Man.’

Indecent poem 

Pushkin wrote 'Ruslan and Lyudmila' in 1818-1820, inspired by the Russian epics about Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich, and the chivalrous poem by the Italian writer Ludovico Ariosto 'Orlando Furioso'. Moreover, he included elements of a parody of Vasily Zhukovsky's ballad 'Twelve Sleeping Virgins' in his work. However, he later regretted it. But Zhukovsky was delighted with 'Ruslan and Lyudmila' and even gave Pushkin his portrait inscribed 'To the winning student from a defeated teacher'.

Son of the Fatherland magazine published some of its chapters. But critics were unanimously telling that the work was extremely indecent and sometimes even too vulgar. However, readers liked it.

The next show of 'Chernomor's Notes' will take place on 3 November at 12:00 pm on the stage of the Drama and Directing Centre at 5 Begovaya Street. 

Photo: Maxim Denisov


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