The Legend of The Holy Drinker at the VAULT festival: British humour meets Berlin cabaret in a sophisticated interchange of culture in this daring adaption

“They want to swap up British and European theatre aesthetics. It worked a treat.”

Joseph Roth’s 1939 novella The Legend of The Holy Drinker is adapted by Hunchtheatre into a fierce and hilarious physical theatre piece. Andreas is a homeless alcoholic from Eastern Europe who one day by chance is given a thousand pounds by a spiritually awakened capitalist on the condition he comes back to return it to the church when he can afford to.

But Andreas’s epicurean leanings lead him astray. He blows it on wine. He makes enemies, loses friends along the way. Hunchtheatre manages to cram this hour with great variety and talent.

Ed Davis is wickedly talented as a number of roles, including both parts of a marriage. He’s strong at carrying a character and physical storytelling. He reminds me of Eric Idle. Eva Mashtaler’s a stoical narrator with frosty power whose moments range from strong and saintly to absurdly funny. Oleg Sidorchik is a great lead as Andreas, endearing and rugged.

The decision to have parts of the script in Russian (translated live by Mashtaler) was a clever touch. One of Hunchtheatre’s stated goals is cultural interchange. They want to swap up British and European theatre aesthetics. It worked a treat. Visually the work felt like an interwar cabaret piece from Berlin but the humour and pace were distinctly British. They didn’t tire out their jokes, they went above and beyond political norms about homelessness, addiction and immigration. They were daring and bluejeans about it, though the social commentary was gently present and engaging.

Granted, there’s the added advantage of being an ensemble piece, but it flowed, all the jokes landed, everyone was working. It was a great show to look at. There’s something alluring about this barebones political theatre look which is hard to put into words yet is so distinctive. 

This rework from the brink of European collapse in 1939 pasted over 2020’s London was intelligent, sophisticated and funny. They deserve praise for digging into the archives for lesser-known work, for not only amplifying the voices of the voiceless, but all the while making an art of it. The Legend of The Holy Drinker glides to my top picks at this festival.

The Legend of The Holy Drinker will be on at The Vaults on Leake Street form the 28th January – 2nd February 2020

Rex is studying for a BA in English and Drama at Goldsmiths. He is especially interested in new political writing, theatre directing and contemporary French and German theatre.

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