Mystery of Russian dynasty's alleged survivor lays foundation for tense drama in Hasland Theatre Company's production
The mystery surrounding one of the world's once most rich and powerful families and the fate of an alleged survivor provides the intriguing plot line for Hasland Theatre Company's first production of the new decade, this week.
It was in July, 1918 that Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, his family and servants were assassinated by Bolshevik revolutionaries in Yekaterinburg, their bodies thrown into a mass grave, covered in acid and set alight.Soon afterwards, rumours began to circulate that a young woman had escaped the massacre and Royce Ryton's 1978 play, The Anastasia File, picks up the story 18 months later at an asylum in Berlin.A newly admitted patient is being cared for after being rescued by the police from a canal, having jumped off a bridge. Haggard and distraught, she is unable, or unwilling, to communicate with medical staff at first, but gradually opens up to a kindly nursing sister.There are no clues to her identity, no papers, no indication of her name nor her nationality, no one has reported her missing. But slowly, slowly, hints of her heritage emerge. She is well educated, fluent in several languages, looks after herself and a police inspector given the task of tracing her origins is certain she must be Russian, having noticed she crosses herself in the Orthodox manner.Kay Haw gave a remarkable performance in the role Ryton chooses not to call Anastasia, but Mrs Manahan, the name she takes to the grave after ultimately failing to convince the authorities of her claim to be the Tsar's only surviving child. She thus misses out on an unimaginably huge fortune. Manahan is based on the real life story of Anna Anderson.The character required emotional depth in spadeloads, whether in apparent trauma recalling her family's execution, or exasperation at the relentless questioning of who she is by the police, medics, the Tsar's family, lawyers and people she mistakenly believed were her friends.At times, it was difficult not to share her frustration as the script tended to be over-repetitive and the constant shifts from one area of the set to another seemed a touch hectic.Rob Peach was impressive in the other lead, as the police inspector and, at the beginning and end of the play, his young son, following in his father's footsteps and still attempting to solve the mystery of whether Mrs Manahan was an impostor or Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the genuine survivor of her imperial family's violent end.Inspector the elder is convinced by her claim - “I believe you, you are who you say you are,” - but a succession of the Tsar's wider family members, lawyers and officials are either sceptical or refute it. These, and the doctors and nursing staff are played by just four more actors, Louise Sutton, Darren Siseman, Rachel Schofield and Steve Cowley, a challenge in itself to adjust to so many roles.Director Val Ryan and the backstage crew produced a set largely divided into two parts to enable the quickfire shifts in the action, with effective use of lighting to create a sense of space.The Anastasia File has one more night to run, Saturday (January 18), at 7.30pm in Hasland Playhouse. There is no performance tonight (Friday).