Written and performed by Evgeny Grishkovets
Translated by Kyle Wilson
Heath Ledger Theatre
The Russian writer and actor Evgeny Grishkovets is an amiable, disarmingly low-key performer, in style less like an actor than a stand-up comedian spinning out an extended thesis through his routine.
Paper, and the way it makes and changes what we did and do, is the central object of his affections, and his sadness.
He remembers, with a kind of sentimental ache, all that paper was, all its forms, its uses and accouterments. Thousand-year-old birch bark with writing burnt into it; the quill pen, blotting paper, the telegram, the envelope opener and paperweight, the typewriter and those long thin international aerogrammes, “Par Avion”; books.
All past, or passing, like the steam engine or the Royal Mail train, or the Mohicans.
And he points out that their successors don’t perform the same functions. An email or an SMS is not a telegram. Telegrams are important; you don’t send them when you’re drunk at two in the morning. Handwriting requires care and forethought; there’s no going back.
So, as we say goodbye to paper, we say goodbye to much else as well, to a whole ecology of thought, relationships and communication.
Sadly, communication is also the inescapable difficulty with this show. Grishkovets speaks Russian, and we do not. His performance style doesn’t lend itself to surtitles as more tightly structured ones do.
So it is translated (expertly, by the distinguished academic and diplomat Kyle Wilson), sentence by sentence, and what would have been an entertaining and instructive hour or so becomes, frankly, a fairly hard slog of nearly twice the length.
Grishkovets was very amused and understanding as he pointed out the watch checking and dozing in the audience (there was plenty of both). It’s not his fault it was happening – but it really wasn’t theirs either.