Review: “Lady Death” by KrisP. Production

The cast of Lady Death (left to right): Laura Mealiffe as Katya, Renae Rufus as Ludmila, Jan Brink as Yuri, and Phillip Smith as Leonid. Photo credit: Stephanie Lau.

KrisP. Production‘s historical drama Lady Death is a much-needed catharsis in this turbulent political climate. While this play is not about the anti-government protests per se, it reflects a lot of relevant themes such as the fight for freedom, and the morality of one’s actions. It is written by the company’s artistic director Kristina Pakhomova, directed by Khairul Khamsani, and features a small cast of four.

This is the story how Ludmila Pavlichenko, a young mother and sharp-shooter, eventually became the Red Army’s first female sniper, nicknamed “Lady Death” for killing a total of 309 Nazis during WWII. Wading her way through unforgiving military training, misogynistic verbal abuse, and encountering romance, betrayal and loss along the way, Ludmila eventually landed at White House, mobilizing troops to fight against the fascists, while also having transformed into a hardened woman from the reality of war.

The ladies of Lady Death really stole the show as much of the meat was in the duologue between Ludmila (played by Renae Rufus) and her bunkmate, the innocent, younger medical student Katya (played by Laura Mealiffe). The former represented justice, while the latter personified humanity and non-violence. Their late-night debates revolved around the question of what is right, which the characters constantly struggled with when war involved taking another person’s life to make up for the loss they’ve experienced. Katya’s character was particularly well-written; her breakdown after finding out her village has been destroyed by the Nazis kick-started her metamorphosis from being naïve and trusting into a ruthless betrayer. Out of all the characters, she was the most well-rounded and showed the most growth, which was a joy to watch.

As for our leading lady, Renae’s movements were a feast for the eyes; precise yet graceful, her focus impeccable, which made the whole experience an electrifying one. The only downside to her character was that Ludmila’s backstory came a little too late in Act II, making it her a bit too distant to relate to in the first act, and not allowing for enough time to feel the true impact of her lover Leonid’s loss near the end.

In terms of the production, the lighting and music design truly brought the minimalist set to life. The opening number was a traditional Russian chant overlaid with a pulsating beat, and when played again in the closing, it became much more stylized when the actors smeared charcoal slowly across each others’ faces under the dramatic red tint from the light. There was, however, a point where the music felt unnecessarily jarring: during Ludmila’s dreamscape sequence, “Barbie Girl” felt more like a crass, disruptive pang in contrast to the scenes of hardship that came before, and did not achieve the comic relief that it was set out to provide.

This piece is certainly a heavy one, but the message of Lady Death is universal and rings true in our modern times: Right and wrong is complicated and only a matter of perspective. It is almost always messy and there is no right answer as to what to do. However, as long as one is alive, we have the obligation to fight for what we hold most dear, and that’s all that matters in the end.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Kristina Pakhomova is currently creative director of KrisP Productions, a Hong Kong Theatre Company that actively collaborates with playwrights and actors around the world and often conducts workshops for adults to further explore their creativity or interests in acting. Visit KrisP’s website at https://www.krispproduction.com

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