A Family Affair

Written by Alexander Ostrovsky (adapted by Nick Dear)

Thurs 20th - Sat 29th November & Tues 25th - Sat 29th November 1997

Directed by John O'Hanlon

"All the characters are first class villains, the dialogue is filthy, the entire play is an insult to the Russian Merchant Class."
What better recommendation can there be for this remarkable, "scabrous and irreverent satire" coming as it does, from the government censor's report on Ostrovsky's first full length play. Tsar Nicholas I banned the play from performance and it cost Ostrovsky his civil service post.

This comedy contains strong language.

AuthorAlexander Ostrovsky

Alexander Nikolayevich Ostrovsky (1823 - 1886)

Ostrovsky graduated from the First Moscow Gymnasium in 1840 and then studied law at Moscow State University for the next 3 years, leaving without having taken his final exams. Following that, he worked as a clerk in the office of the Court of Conscience, and subsequently in that of the Commercial Court in Moscow. Both courts were called upon to settle disputes chiefly among the Russian merchant class, from which Ostrovsky was enabled to draw the chief characters for his earliest comedies. Among these are 'The Poor Bride', 'Poverty Is No Crime' and 'Don't Put Yourself In Another Man's Sledge'. Of this last play Nicholas I said it was "not a play, but a lesson", and subsequently it was prohibited for ten years, until the accession of Alexander II.

Publication of 'A Family Affair' meant that Ostrovsky was placed under the supervision of the police and lost his government service job. The liberal tendencies of the new reign, however, soon overturned some of the harsher decisions of the new Tsar's predecessor. Ostrovsky was one of several well-known literary men who were sent into the provinces to report on the condition of the people. Ostrovsky's area of enquiry lay along the upper Volga, a part of the country memorable for some of the most important events in Russian history. Ostrovsky subsequently wrote several historical dramas such as 'False Dimitry', 'Vasily Shuisky' and 'Vassilisa Melentieva' and many of his later works portray the Russian nobility.

Ostrovsky enjoyed the patronage of Alexander III, and received a pension of 3000 roubles a year. With the help of Moscow capitalists, he established the Maly Theatre as a model theatre and school of dramatic art, of which he became the first director. He also founded the Society of Russian Dramatic Art and Opera Composers. Several months before his death, he was appointed repertoire director of all the Russian state theatres but because of illness was unable to start the job. Several of his plays, in particular his most famous work, 'The Storm', have been turned into operas, mostly by Russian composers.

AdaptationNick Dear

Nick Dear (b 1955)

Born in Portsmouth, Dear graduated with a degree in Comparative European Literature from the University of Essex in 1977 and received a BAFTA for his first screenwriting credit - a TV adaptation of Jane Austen's 'Persuasion'. In 2005, 'Lunch in Venice' appeared at the Shell Connections festival at the National Theatre and his plays 'Power' and 'Summerfolk' both later premiered at the same venue. Other works include 'Zenobia' and 'The Art of Success'. The latter, which features William Hogarth and portrays the political manipulation of art, the corruption of politics and treatment of women, was nominated for an Olivier Award.

PlayA Family Affair

The original play was written in 1850 and its full title is 'It's a Family Affair - We'll Settle It Ourselves'. First published in a magazine, Tsar Nicholas I banned the play from performance, because of the uproar it caused amongst the merchants. They were horrified of his depiction of the seamier side of their lives. Ostrovsky was put under police surveillance and a year later he was forced to resign his civil service post.

This new adaptation by Nick Dear was given its British premiere by Cheek by Jowl Theatre Company in 1988.

The Bench Production

A Family Affair poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Samson Bolshov (a merchant)Peter Corrigan
Agrafena (his wife)Helena Zefferett
Olipiada (their daughter)Lucia Favarin
Lazar Elizarich (assistant to Bolshov)Tom Kenyon
Ustinya Naumovna (a matchmaker)Ruth Prior
Rispololzhensky (a solicitor)David Penrose
Fominshna (a housekeeper)Ingrid Corrigan
Tishka (a boy)Philip Freed


Director John O'Hanlon
Stage Manager Eve Walker
Lighting Operation Simon Walton
Costumes Simon Walton
Musician Phillipa Green
Set Design David Penrose
John O'Hanlon
Handbill Pete Woodward
Photographs John Plimmer
Stage Hands Stuart Monk
Louise Arnold
Julia Earl
John Blackmore


The NewsMike Allen

Review Headline

Tsar Nicholas I has a point when he banned Ostrovsky's play, A Family Affair. The characters are an odious lot. But they are lively too, as portrayed in John O'Hanlon's Bench Theatre production.

It would be hard to imagine a larger than life pair than Peter Corrigan as a merchant who loans his wealth to cheat his creditors, and Helena Zefferitt as his wife. She has a touch of Dora Bryan in her voice, Joan Sims in her manner and Patricia Routledge in her facial expressions - plus a grossness all her own. Corrigan's roaring drunk contrasts shrewdly with David Penrose's subtler dipsomaniac lawyer. Always reaching out for a vodka and with limbs looking as if they don't belong to him, he's easily the nicest of the bunch.

Young Tom Kenyon and Lucia Favarin play the nastiest, greediest pair, with promise, but both need to learn to speak their words as if for the first time rather than in a well-rehearsed speech. The play, adapted in racy style, by Nick Dear, seems over-long but has a fine theatrical ending. Until November 29.

The News, 21st November 1997

Production Photographs