The Russian Gambler by Dolya Gavanski after Dostoyevsky

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Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 17-24 November 2013
This version of the Dostoyevsky classic offered a fascinatingly different take on its source-text, compared to the BBC Radio 3 version broadcast in June 2009.
In Guy Retallack's production for Radio 3, the farcical elements were emphasized, especially in Patricia Routledge's performance as the matriarch of the family, and Nicholas le Prevost's General.  This approach helped to underline the satiric elements of the tale, as well as pointing out the strength of many of the characters as they defied expectation as well as incipient loneliness to emerge unscathed, at least mentally if not financially.
John Dryden's Classic Serial transposed the material to contemporary London, where the pianist Alexei (Ed Stoppard) got a job working as a tutor to the daughter of a wealthy Russian oligarch, and was unwittingly sucked into a world of obsession, chance and violence.  This was a much darker adaptation, focusing on the ways in which money brought out the bestial nature of the protagonists - so much so that violence (whether physical or emotional) became a way of life.  This quality was evident not just among the Russian émigrés, but also among the Londoners surrounding them.  The Russians seemed at home in a rapacious world of surfaces, where love and loyalty played no part, and wealth equalled power.  Through this strategy Dryden made some trenchant points about the ephemeral - and superficial - nature of celebrity and the way it is venerated in the media.
In this production the world of gambling was a way of life - not just focused on the gaming table, but also determining the ways in which the characters behaved.  All of them believed that they were participating in a game of chance: sometimes they won, other times they lost, but they would never give up.  Their world-view was set against that of the lawyer and friend of the oligarch Astley (Graham Seed), a representative of an old-fashioned world of stability reduced to an appurtenance in a world devoted to surfaces.
The Granny - here renamed Anastasia (Eleanor Bron) - was likewise a representative of an old world; that of a Russian family.  But she soon became sucked into the same world of gambling that characterized her family.  In the end there seemed to be no resolution; rather like pet mice going round and round on their wheels, the characters seemed unable, as well as unwilling, to get off their treadmill of chance.