THE RSC kicks off its celebration of Russian theatre with a brace of brand new plays.
This particular story drops us in rural Ukraine, just as Stalin has started his Five Year Plan – overhauling agriculture, dividing communities and ultimately causing mass starvation.
It’s sobering to think that these events happened in living memory.
Our story centres on the people at the heart of the changes. Arsei and Mokrina, the sweethearts torn apart by the scheme.
The fearsome Mortko, a Government official who is prepared to do anything for the cause. And perhaps most interesting of all, the troupe of actors who spread propaganda through the ranks.
As someone who is used to seeing Shakespeare on this stage, the show is a bit of a culture shock. The language is blunt, the costumes plain... the point clear, we’re not in Navarre anymore.
Considering the grim events, there’s a surprising number of laughs in the early part of the play. Having said that, we laugh at the Gravedigger in Hamlet, that doesn’t mean that the story has a happy ending.
And neither does this one. There’s some terribly poignant moments in the play and even the humour is double-edged.
In one scene the starving villagers are forced into costumes and made to dance – a pathetic charade to impress on an American journalist how happy the barren community is.
A troupe of actors urge the group to look cheerful and sing, when in truth they’re too weak to even stand up.
The performance is amusing and horrific in one stroke.