May/June 2011

A Family Affair
by Alexander Ostrovsky
adapted by Nick Dear

Directed by
Rita Vango

The audience were
amused throughout
Michael Gray

Satire still relevant today
Braintree & Witham Times

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A Family Affair is a scathing farce about the Russian merchant class, where the swindler is swindled and every cross is a double cross; a stinging play about greed, corruption and the desire to climb the social ladder whatever the cost.

When written by Alexander Ostrovsky in 1850, it caused an absolute uproar that resulted in this remarkable and hilarious satire being banned for more than thirty years by Tsar Nicholas I.  The government censor was heard to cry ‘The characters are first rate villains, the dialogue is filthy and the entire play is an insult to the Russian merchant class!’

Lipochka dreams of dancing at the Assembly Rooms with officers from the Imperial Guard.  She has a vision of her engagement to an officer in the grand style and then realises that she has not danced in over a year.

She complains to her mother Agrafena about her narrow-minded attitude and her failure to find her a suitable husband.

A matchmaker Ustinya Naumovna arrives to report on her progress in finding a suitable husband.
She complains that the Bolshov's requirements are impossible to meet, with Lipochka's father yearning for a wealthy man, her mother requiring a life of luxury and Lipochka herself
- a nobleman.

Fominishna, the housekeeper, chides Lipochka, telling her that all noblemen are smelly and good-for-nothing.

Ustinya tells Agrafina that she has found an aristocrat for Lipochka who is likeable intelligent and wealthy.  She thinks he will make allowances for her family.

The solicitor Rispolozhensky arrives to see Bolshov with a plan to overcome his financial difficulties.  He suggests transferring all his property to his clerk temporarily whilst declaring himself insolvent to his creditors.

The clerk Lazar arrives and Bolshov explains his predicament and the plan he and Rispolozhensky have cooked up between them.  Lazar agrees to go along with it.

The servant Tishka reflect on his lot in the Bolshov household, being pushed around and generally treated intolerably by what he regards as "a bunch of low-life".

Lazar bribes Rispolozhensky to ensure that the transfer of Bolshov's property is permanent.
He also tells him that his plan to settle with Bolshov's creditors has failed and that Bolshov is bankrupt.

Lazar persuades Ustinya with bribes and threats to abandon the suitor she has found,
in favour of himself.

The household awaits the suitor unaware that Lazar has arranged for his replacement by himself.  After persuading Bolshov that he is the best suitor, Bolshov announces to a horrified Lipochka that she is to marry Lazar.
She refuses.

After explaining to Lipochka that she will never marry a nobleman as her father is bankrupt, Lazar promises her wealth and a position in society if she marries him.  She agrees.

After Lazar and Lipochka agree terms for their marriage,  the household is recalled and champagne is opened to toast the happy couple.

Finally in their new house, Lazar and Lipochka take their places in the fashionable society of the Merchants Guilds.  Lazar has now set up his own business whilst Bolshov languishes in a debtor's prison.

Ustinya returns to claim the 1500 roubles and sable coat that Lazar promised her.  Lazar denies all knowledge of such a promise and offers her 100 roubles.  Ustinya threatens to denounce him.

Bolshov visits on leave from prison and asks Lazar to settle his debts as originally promised.  Lazar refuses, claiming that with the new house and business, they have no money.

Agrafena curses Lazar for what he has done.  She damns him to hell.

Bolshov takes his leave to return to prison.  He reminds Lipochka that whilst she is enjoying herself at costume balls, others are in prison cells.

A drunken Rispolozhensky arrives for the 1500 extra roubles promised him for swindling Bolshov.  Lazar refuses and denounces him as a worthless loser.

After being denounced by everyone, Lazar invites all to the opening of his new department store, bought with the proceeds of his evil doings.



      Chris Kearney
      Lynda Shelverton
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