Russian culture seems to be in vogue just now. Dramas such as Red Sparrow and The White Crow have hit cinemas, drag queens like Katya Zamolodchikova are gaining exposure basing acts on Russian personas, the nation’s pop is gaining Western fans, and they are even showcasing an interest in Western elections. One-woman show Svetlana starring Nicola Jo Cully and written by Paul Matthews attempts to tap into this with a very Glasgwegian twist. Svetlana is directed by Laila Noble.
Svetlana’s life in Glasgow is disrupted when she is called to fight in the War on Terror. Her journey takes her to the Middle East, Moscow, and Space. The show blends absurdist theatre with light stand-up to create a unique end result.
Praise should go to Nicola Jo Cully who successfully steers this one-woman show. She’s committed to her character of Svetlana and delivers a high-energy performance throughout the sixty-minute runtime. The performer leads the intentionally ramshackle production with a welcome enthusiasm and her best efforts. There is a fun conviction in Nicola Jo Cully running around the stage pretending to launch into space with a talking chimpanzee or diffuse a death ray infused in a VW camper, but this is not enough to help Svetlana recover from the unpleasant humour.
It’s unfortunate that the humour in Svetlana fails to land. Whilst the idea of a Russian with a thick Glaswegian accent is fun initially it lacks the ability to amuse for the full runtime of the show – essentially the novelty vanishes quickly. Svetlana also relies heavily on stereotyped images of Glaswegians – heavy drinking and with a vocabulary rooted in swear words. The shock of Russian Svetlana swearing like a trooper wears off quickly, just becoming a bit unpleasant with little wit or depth to back it up. The humour stays similarly unpleasant with Vladamir Putin becoming a caricature of a gay man and Kim Jong-Un a source of fat jokes. Whilst these figures aren’t those that need your sympathy, the humour here feels uninspired and lazy with this show leaving a bad taste.