In a memorable production, Xameleon Theatre recently brought Mikhail Bulgakov’s complex novel A Dog’s Heart to the stage at Canada Water Theatre. Performed in its original language with English subtitles, the play was aimed at Russian and English speakers alike, bringing a piece of Russian culture to a London audience. Based in Canada Water Library, the theatre only seats 150 guests, but nevertheless, the entrance to the building was framed by a long queue of curious theatre-goers.
The setup of the stage reminded of a hospital room, as two white room-dividers blocked the view on what lay behind. The lights went off and, projected onto the room-divider, we saw snow-covered Moscow, a storm blowing through the city. Then, from the right, appeared Sharik, the stray mongrel, embodied by Russian actor Sergey Kotukh. In a heart-warming monologue, Sharik described his suffering as his left side had just been scalded by a cook shooing the stray away from the dustbins. Seeking shelter in a doorway, the dog was certain of his imminent death, when a man (“not a comrade, but a citizen, or even more likely, a gentleman”) appeared on the screen. Wearing a heavy fur coat and longish beard, he offered Sharik a sausage, with which he lured the creature along the screen into his house.
In order to treat the audience to a “dog’s perspective,” director Konstantin Kamensky cleverly used the on-stage room-dividers and a live camera filming from a low angle. The actors interacted with the camera, bowing down to talk to, stroke, and feed the dog (in this case the cameraman was fed with real food off a dining table filled with zakuski, Russian snacks). Sharik, meanwhile, sat next to a screen on which the spectators could observe the play through the camera lens, representing the dog’s eyes.