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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
Beatles play enthralls Moscow
The Beatles
The Beatles replace Chekov at the Moscow Art Theatre
A new play based on characters from Beatles songs is thrilling audiences in Moscow.

The Girls of the Beatles [Devushki Bitlov] underwhelmed the critics when it opened in February at the Moscow Art Theatre [Mkhat], but has been a slow-burning success with the public.

Regardless of the lukewarm reception by critics, the staging of such a work at the classical Mkhat - Russia's equivalent of the Royal Shakespeare Company - is a departure.

The Moscow Times said: "The Girls of the Beatles marks the beginning of a new era at the world's most famous playhouse."

The Beatles
Mkhat premiered nearly all of Chekov's plays
The play features Sergeant Pepper (Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club), Rita (Lovely Rita Meter Maid), Lucy (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), Sexy Sadie and Michelle - from the songs of the same name.

Mkhat is hoping to pull in a new audience, but feels it is doing so in an appropriate way.

"We never forget that in the name Moscow Art Theatre there is the word art," said Mkhat's general manager Alexander Popov.

The story begins as Pepper prepares to appear on a TV show to promote his book about Beatles babes and the lead up to the appearance is disrupted by the women in question.

I guess we can declare the following: Pop goes the Art Theatre

John Freedman, The Moscow Times

Rita is not a meter maid but a gas station attendant who reveals that she slept with Ringo Starr.

Sexy Sadie is a prostitute from Soweto who says she adopted John Lennon.

Lucy went to New York with some LSD and a pistol with a plan to shoot JF Kennedy but ended up dropping acid with George Harrison instead.

And Michelle might be Sergeant Pepper's mother or not and she may have bumped into Paul McCartney in Paris - or not.

Reality and fantasy

In addition there are brief encounters with Lenin, Marx and a rock and roll Einstein, who are runners on the show.

The action takes place to the rhythm of Beatles songs - there is a preference for the late period, but Eleanor Rigby and Twist and Shout are included.

Critics praised the marked enthusiasm of the play and, needless to say, the soundtrack, but had difficulty working out what exactly the play was trying to say.

It was pitched as an exploration of the hazy area between reality and fantasy.

But audiences are happy to be carried along and Popov said that the play has been playing to full houses with demand growing by the week.

Actors' training

Mkhat is an outstanding Russian theatre considered to be the most innovative and influential in Russia since it was founded in 1898.

Co-founder Konstantin Stanislavsky developed a system of training for actors that would enable them to perform realistically in any sort of role and situation.

Today virtually all professional training of actors worldwide contains at least elements of the Stanislavsky method.

The play by Sergei Volynets is the first production conceived and rehearsed by Mkhat's new artistic director Oleg Tabakov.

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