Written by John Hodge Director Maureen Nelson Performed at the Stables 6th – 14th April
Reviewed by Hugh Bryant
I saw this play, directed by Maureen Nelson who is on the more radical wing of the small army of local directors who have to fight every year in order to show their chosen plays.
You can well imagine Maureen’s pitch to the Supreme Stables Committee. ‘The play is set in pre-war Soviet Russia and is about this Ukrainian Doctor, Mikhail Bulgakov, who is a writer like Chekov; no, he doesn’t write as well as Chekhov but he is a doctor and a playwright. He has this dream in which Stalin appears and makes an offer that Bulgakov can’t refuse. It’s a Faustian pact – Bulgakov is allowed to put on his plays as long as he writes a play, a eulogy about Stalin. In this extended dream, Stalin gradually takes over Bulgakov’s body, mind and soul and becomes Stalin whilst Stalin dictates, no, not like that, the play and finally types it himself. As you can imagine, it all ends badly for Bulgakov, his family and friends and, this isn’t in the play, between 9 and 50 million other people, who died. It’s a dark comedy. … anyway, it was a great success at the Cottesloe in 2011 with Simon Russell Beale as Stalin….. What do you say???.
And it was a typically admirable Nelsonian type of play – engaging, challenging, funny, surreal with a mixed cast with some strong acting from old Stable hands and newer apprentices .
Mike Stoneham as Bulgakov steals the show, fresh from his performance here in A Doll’s House. His gradual sickening ( from kidney disease) was totally realistic and the best on stage I have ever seen. I am glad for his sake the play only has a short run. Praise must go to the make up and lighting departments, and whilst we are at it, the wardrobe departments and the set design.
Ian Klemen as Stalin is very good as the avuncular Josef Stalin, the image that Uncle Joe projected on to the world who collectively turned a blind eye while Stalin became the biggest genocidal murderer in 20th Century history. I wanted to see more of the other darker shades of Stalin and more signs of his paranoia.
Strong support was given by Susannah Mayor, Alan Haynes, Peter Mould and the rest of the cast and last but not least Anne Edwards (Annie), an old town treasure who shuffled on for what must be the thousandth time and gave a couple of cameo performances.
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