Friday, December 2, 2011

Collaborators, National Theatre, London

A simulcast yesterday, of a new play, Collaborators, from the National Theatre of London, shown here at 2:00 in the afternoon [it was 8:00 in London] was a very fine play brilliantly acted, especially by the actors who played the novelist, Mihail Bulgakov, and Stalin. The in-the-round production at the Cottesloe, the smaller space in the National Theatre complex was probably seen more completely and even more intimately by the distant audience than by the inhouse audience. I could only imagine as I thought of what I had seen while driving home, that the video work had surely been plotted out by a brilliant editor/director. I have always found live in-the-round interesting but somewhat distracting as no matter where one sits, one misses a portion of the visual impact of the actor's work. When the lighting is purposely dim, as this was, and very appropriately so for the mood and setting, seeing is even more difficult for the inhouse audience.

I felt very sad and annoyed that the event was badly attended, maybe 50 or 60 people, whereas for a performance I found highly mannered and often distasteful of Hamlet the local theatre was very full. People seem to think that a famous old warhorse is a better bet than something new. Very often that is absolutely wrong. When a theatre with the resources of the National -- in terms of actors, designers, directors -- mounts something new it will be done so well that even if it's not destined to be a classic, it will be brilliantly done.

In Collaborators Bulgakov is asked to write a play for Stalin's 60th birthday. He cannot, in good conscience, write something positive about a man he loathes. The playwright's conceit is that Stalin actually writes the play himself while foisting off his pile of official documents for Bulgakov to read and initial for him -- which means Bulgakov is signing orders for murders, mass starvation in the Ukraine, deportation, etc. Bulgakov begins echoing some of Stalin's equivocations. When he finally breaks and refuses to sign more papers Stalin says, "It's man against monster, and the monster always wins." A political truth we've seen time and again in the last 100 years in so many different tyrannical states. Not a happy take home message but certainly one to ponder.

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