Review by George Allan (March 1977)
Youth Action Theatre usually appears at Hampton Court Theatre, so I support the use of Craig Hall in Teddington for a production of Aleksei Arbuzov's The Promise was the result of the extreme pressure on the theatre during this jubilee year.
Craig Hall is not the most suitable of venues for a theatrical performance, and the YAT was wise not to attempt anything over-ambitious in terms of presentation. As it happened, the bare walls and the well-chosen props served to encapsulate the drama perfectly.
The play is an insidious one - each time I see it I am left feeling that it is a play of hopelessness... then the spell begins to work and I feel more and more the moving and positive aspects of the story, together with its freedom from despair as well as of illusion.
The story concerns three adolescents who survive the Siege of Leningrad in a bombed house. In short, episodic scenes the two boys and one girl suffer the hardships of war, the awakening of love and display the touching gaiety of youth. All this is drawn with a sensitive touch and a genuine naturalism.
After the war the girl must choose between the two boys and although she loves the engineer Marat, she chooses the independent Leonidik. As a result no one is happy and 13 years later Leonidik calls Marat back, leaving them to face life together in the hope that at least they two will find fulfilment.
Writing as delicate as this needs playing as deft as can be achieved and I am full of wonder at the nuance and sensitivity to pace and mood shown by YAT's three young players under Eric Yardley's deeply understanding direction.
Annabel Giles , as Lika, was most successfull as the young girl of the first act. Later she did not quite manage to make me feel that this bright, gay creature was still hiding inside the sophisticated exterior; I was left feeling that Marat was going to have quite as much difficulty living with the woman that she had become as did her selfless husband.
Stephen Pratt, as Leonidik, had probably the most difficult role of all - the actor had to convey a dependence of personality yet also a spark of independence of spirit that enables him to hold back his true work as a poet and allow only the "approved" style work to be published. Leonidik is a true pragmatist, and Stephen managed to convey that to me - my heart bled for him as he trudged off to catch his train in the depths of the Russian winter, leaving together the two people he loved more than life.
Marat was played by David Lewsey, a young actor with immense talet who is improving with every role. Marat may be a realist to himself but he is still caught within the confines of his own imagined impotence against the pre-ordination of the totalitarian state - a Bukovsky without the mental courage of that remarkable man.
David Lewsey understood this and that was why I left Craig Hall full of dark thoughts about the hopelessness of it all. It was also why, two hours later, I was rejoicing in my heart that somehow Marat and Lika would make out and so would Leonidik - the human spirit is vast!