Socialist Worker

The Lower Depths

by Viv Smith
Issue No. 2218

Maxim Gorky’s play about life in Russia in 1902 is perfectly suited to the tiny warren that is the Baron’s Court theatre.

It’s as if you dropped in for a cup of tea—a washing line hangs across one of the blocks of seating and actors perform in the isles.

The play is set in the basement of a house where poor people are forced to eke out their existence sharing a tiny hovel of a space.

Gorky’s play gives us an insight into a society that is degenerating. It raises questions about the lives we lead and how they are constructed—is the poor convict different from the baron?

This is perhaps Gorky’s best-known play, becoming his first major success and a hallmark of Russian socialist realism.

I thought I was in for a dark, depressing production. But it is neither. Yes it shows the harsh reality of life and exposes the comforting lies people construct to make their lives bearable.

But it does challenge the hopelessness of their existence and, towards the end, the light of humanity’s potential to overcome the constraints society imposes on us flickers in the dark.

Worth trying to squeeze in before it ends.

The Lower Depths
Baron’s Court Theatre, London W14
Until 19 September

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Tue 7 Sep 2010, 17:52 BST
Issue No. 2218
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