Vasily Grossman’s 855-page account of life across the Soviet Union during World War II has been compared to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Adaptor/director Lev Dodin and his Maly Drama Theatre company from St Petersburg have honed it into three hours of gripping theatre, by turns shocking, moving and funny – sometimes all three simultaneously. They have wisely concentrated on the story of the family of Viktor Shtrum, the Jewish physicist at the heart of Grossman’s novel, while ensuring that other key characters get the stage time they deserve. The predicament of the Jews that underpins the novel is placed firmly centre stage.
Celebrated Lithuanian director Rimas Tuminas grew up alongside Jewish compatriots and his familiarity with Jewish life and custom informs this glorious evocation. Smile Upon Us, Lord, which Tuminas adapted for the stage from two novels by fellow Lithuanian and celebrated writer Grigory Kanovich, tells of a world lost forever in the Holocaust. Indeed a fatalism by turns melancholy and filled with the laughter of self-mocking recognition imbues this picaresque tale of three men on a mission to the big city, leaving behind the familiarity of the shtetl to meet new travelling companions and adventures along the way.