“Why then tonight let us assay our plot”

‘All’s Well That End’s Well’, Act 3, Scene 7

William Shakespeare

On Monday night, I was lucky enough to see ‘Collaborators’ (John Hodge) at the National Theatre, starring Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings. I think it’s actually sold out until it closes next week, so unfortunately you won’t be able to see it currently, unless you’ve booked, but I really would reccommend it.

The play is about Mikhail Bulgakov, a very Liberal, famous Russian playwright, and Stalin. Bulgakov is asked (or rather forced, by the Russian Secret Service-the NKVD) to write a play for Stalin’s sixtieth birthday, as Stalin is a huge fan. Although Bulgakov is against everything that Stalin and his communist regime stand for, he agrees to write the play after the NKVD officer threatens his wife and agrees that his formerly banned dramas can be staged again. Bulgakov struggles to write the play, until he gets a mysterious phonecall, asking to him to meet up with someone in a secret place in the middle of the night. This ‘someone’ turns out to be none other than Stalin himself, who is eager to actually help write the play, as long as Bulgakov helps him with his political decisions…

At first, I was slightly sceptical; it was my first day back at school, I was tired, and it did sound a little overly serious. However, might as well take advantage of a free ticket! Plus, I studied the Russian Revolution and the Cold War in History last year, so I have to say I felt a little smug when I got the references. You don’t actually need to know the background to enjoy the play, only that Stalin was one of the most cruel dictators ever. The play is loosely based on a true story; Bulgakov was asked to write a play for Stalin, Stalin really was a great fan of Bulgakov’s work, and Bulgakov was diagnosed with a life-debilitating illness a few months before. However, the meetings between Stalin and Bulgakov never took place, and of course, the events are both dramatised and humourised.

I really enjoyed the play itself; it was funny, dramatic and thought-provoking. Stalin (Beale) was hilarious, yet by the end strangely threatening. I loved the way Bulgakov/Stalin’s play was acted out by very over-the-top actors whilst the real life was much more dramatic and realistic. I can see why it won the Olivier Award 2012 for Best New Play. The deaths (sorry for the plot spoiler!) are portrayed very cleverly and the feeling of people simply disappearing from their homes was very well put across – not over-stated yet still shocking. The most impressive thing was the way you got why Bulgakov (Jennings) made the decisions he did, despite knowing the awful consequences. The transition which Bulgakov made from being the Liberal everyone looked up to to almost being on Stalin’s side was chilling in it that the audience could totally understand why it occurred. Special mention to the set; everytime I go to the National, the sets are just incredible: fitting, simple and there aren’t too many changes needed, so not many breaks in the action, and this was exactly the same. There was only one set but it fit with all of the different scenes and created the mood of foreshadowing and suspicion (or maybe I’m reading too much into it?!)

If it’s ever on, definitely go see it!




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