With a heavy run time of almost two hours, Cockroaches is a slow-moving, dense piece of theatre that struggles to maintain energy and drive throughout.
The story follows five refugees of the Russian Civil War as they attempt to build new lives for themselves in Europe. Intertwined with this meditation, on the lengths that people will go to for survival and the meaning of “home”, is a predictable and bland love story, performed by two awkward, stilted actors with painfully forced chemistry. There are some real, intriguing performances however, notably the boisterous ex-war general who demands attention, the epitome of masculine bravado, and a mentally deteriorating commander, who stares, bug-eyed and hunched back, at a world he has lost his place in. Additionally, there is considerable time dedicated to exploring the motivations of each member of the eclectic, miserable group (disgraced war veterans, a philosophy student, a waning woman) which is satisfying and sympathetic.
Love itself is presented as the only beacon of hope, the only stable and undying thing in a cruel world, the metaphorical ‘cockroach’- it gets in through the cracks in the negativity and cannot be easily destroyed. However, the play fails to engage the audience, and these themes and realisations end up feeling stagnant, and the overwhelmingly gloomy nature of the play is distracting and off-putting. Furthermore, I felt as though I would have benefited from brushing up on my knowledge of Russian history for a deeper understanding of the conflict of the Civil War, as I was quickly lost with such thin exposition.
The production is intense, and the story is cruel, however ‘Cockroaches’ has the potential to really explore still-relevant political history, if only the focus was further refined. It currently feels too disjointed and unsure of what path to take; to be a romantic play, or to be a brutal investigation of a tense political climate. Too often it suffers jarring tone shifts, and whilst it is possible to be both romantic and violent and to additionally encapsulate human emotion, the production does not seem to have full confidence in either side, and therefore it falters slightly.
A show with some hidden acting gems, and a lot to say, ‘Cockroaches’ does not use its lengthy run time to its advantage. However, there is a lot of potential to further develop the piece, and I fully support the young company in its future endeavours.