Written in 1964 by Russian playwright Alexei Arbuzov, The Promise is a love triangle between three characters (Alison Bell, Ewen Leslie and Chris Ryan) who meet as teenagers in a derelict apartment in 1942 in Leningrad, while the city is under siege from the Nazis, and follows the trio's fortunes over the next 17 years.
All the action takes place in this one room and through it we see the changes in the characters and the city and country they live in as the years pass. Director Simon Stone does a good job of depicting the passing of time through the characters' clothes and pieces of furniture. But overall, the production seems to lack something.
The beginning, in a warn-torn Leningrad, is especially weak. Apart from the sounds of a few bombs exploding, there isn't really anything on the stage to evoke a city under siege. The characters look implausibly stylish and well-groomed and the actors all seem a little stiff and uncomfortable in their roles.
As the story unfolds, though, things improve. The actors seem to grow more confident and Bell, in particular, delivers an excellent performance as Lika, the woman for whose attentions the two male characters are vying.
The notion that these characters are inextricably bound by their wartime experiences is effectively conveyed, and as the years go by and the promises of youth give way to the compromises and disappointments of adulthood, there is a real sense of poignancy.
But it's not quite enough to take away the feeling of lifelessness. We're left with the impression that if the director and cast had let themselves go a bit more, this play could have really delivered on its promise. Gina Flaxman