BBC Radio 4, 25-29 November 2013
This fascinating piece was constructed
like a picaresque novel, in which the eponymous hero (David Dawson) and his creator (Geoffrey Streatfield) embarked on mental
as well as physical journeys of self-discovery. Along the way they enjoyed passionate relationships with women,
fought duels with their closest friends (or should it be rivals), designed to satisfy their honour. One of
them ended up dead; the other lived on to fight another day.
Yet Abigail le Fleming's production was much more about the process of literary creation, focusing on the relationship
between fictional characters and their creators. Whereas Pushkin and Onegin's lives followed similar trajectories, their
fates were entirely different. This suggested the power of literary characters to live on in the popular consciousness,
well after their authors have passed away. Sometimes they take on lives of their own, even if their creators have based
them on their own autobiographies (look at David Copperfield as a good example). Eugene Onegin showed
the same process at work; in the end Pushkin admitted that he did not necessarily have to set the end of Eugene's story
down; perhaps it could be left to readers to complete it instead. This provided
the pretext for the story's ending, when Natalya (Zoe Tapper), Pushkin's long-time partner, discovered that others knew as
much about Onegin as his creator actually did.
The production also values the importance of romanticism - understood in this context as the
power to let the imagination run wild. Sometimes this led to the characters' hearts ruling their heads, especially where
duels were concerned, but at least it could be said that they lived life to the full, unhindered by the constrictions of social
and/or moral convention.
The five-part structure in the Fifteen Minute Drama slot worked really well for this adaptation,
offering listeners a series of variations on familiar themes - passion vs. reason, the power of romanticism, as well as the
complexities of literary representation, shared by author, adaptor and listeners alike.