What would you do if you were given a lifeline out of an impending doom, but your friend wasn’t? Would you grab it, flee and never look back? Or would you help your friend, impossible as it may be?
At The Ark At Eight, a play loosely based on the story of Noah And The Great Flood, seeks to answer this question. The 70-min one-act comedy, staged by Russian company St Petersburg Masterskaya Theatre, opens on Friday Feb 23 at Pentas 1, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.
The show, written by German playwright Ulrich Hub and helmed by Russian director Ekaterina Gorokhovskaya, will be presented in Russian with English surtitles. It features a cast of six Russians who will introduce their delightfully warmhearted story – brimming with philosophical debates – to Malaysia for the first time.
“The play explores friendship, love for one’s fellow man, faith and faithlessness,” says Michael Barsegov, the general manager of St Petersburg Masterskaya Theatre, in an email. “Though it was originally written for children, its subject matter turned out to be so much greater than a children’s play, allowing it to enjoy many successful stagings by mainstream theatres in Europe and Russia.”
On paper, At The Art At Eight is simple and endearing enough. It centres on three bickering penguins in Antarctica, who once day receive some astonishing news from a dove: God is tired of the constant strife between humans and animals and has decided to flood the earth.
The bird appears with two passes for Noah’s Ark: “Here are the tickets. Make sure not to lose them. And remember to be at the ark at eight. Whoever is late will drown.” But now the penguins face with a greater dilemma – how will all three get on the boat when they only have two spots?
On stage, the play recreates the biblical tale with keen observations on friendship, how our decisions affect those around us, and a hilarious twist. The humorous story explores the lengths one will go to to save a friend, even if it means breaking the rules. It also touches on faith, solidarity and tolerance.
Originally written in 2006, when a German publishing house offered theatre groups the chance to stage productions for children. Hub took up the story of the flood and added his own charm and philosophical spin to it.
Meet At The Ark At Eight, his first novel, has won prizes in Germany, France, Italy and The Netherlands. It’s considered a modern classic in children’s theatre and was awarded the Deutscher Kindertheaterpreis award in 2006.
In talking about theatre and religion, Barsegov believes that the “good thing about theatre is that there are unlimited ways to tell stories”. He says, “You can choose to dress a heavier topic in a light manner that is entertaining for audience members. This is evident in At the Ark At Eight.
“The St Petersburg Masterskaya Theatre’s young actors put on a dynamic, bold and funny show in which they joyfully and delicately – and without ever becoming didactic or moralising – search for answers to questions that trouble many.”
The St Petersburg Masterskaya Theatre is a professional state dramatic theatre in Russia founded in 2010 by the Acting and Directing class of Professor Grigory Kozlov at the St Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy.