Mikhail Bulgakov is one of the most prominent Russian writers of the 20th century, with a deep compassion for the intelligentsia. Readers are likely to be familiar with his most magical novel, Master and Margarita.
Having been brought up in a well-educated family and having worked as a military surgeon prior to turning to literature, who would have been better suited for capturing the soul of the Revolution than Bulgakov? Some of his important works are concerned with how the history shreds peoples’ destinies and lives:particularly the novel The White Guard, and plays The Days of Turbines and Flight. Production of the latter was forbidden during the author’s life, but received recognition after his (and also Stalin’s) death. The play was staged across Russia and was also adapted in cinematic and operatic forms. The adaptation of this play by Howard Coyler is now brought to the stage in London.
The action takes place during the last period of the Russian revolution and deals with the intertwining of lives of a a group of pre-Soviet émigrés. The wave of the Revolution forces them to flee from the motherland: first to Crimea, then Constantinople, Paris… The remnants of the White Army faced the inevitable quite soon and became desperate and ferocious at the same time. The characters in the play illustrate bewilderment amongst people in the face of the new and unknown situation experienced by this vast country. The extreme conditions cause people to plead, betray, stay strong or (under the cruel interrogation) be flexible with their responses. Despite all that tragedy they are still capable of caring, loving and being compassionate. The play itself is rich in content, with brilliant dialogues, escapades, twists and deeply hidden satirical content.
Even though each actor appears passionate and expressive, there is little interaction among the performaers. The magic of theatre cannot be found in this production whatsoever. There is a great deal of crying and throwing furniture about without much meaning behind these actions. One of the few and truthful moments is the monologue of half-mad and deeply unhappy ex-White General Khludov, (Michael Edwards), whose mind, wounded by the pangs of conscience, interprets as talking to the casualties of the civil war. His performance is especially impressive taking into account the fact that the actor had to take over the role only a few days before the production. Besides, David Bromley is convincing in each the roles he plays: from Tikhii to the Commander in Chief. As for the supporting actors, their playing multiple roles leaves a lot to be desired and causes some confusion as it ought to take more than taking off a belt and a headband to change into a different character.
The scenography is undeniably in line with the play’s leitmotif and the literate meaning of the title – ‘the run’. The various suitcases hanging around the stage are suggestive of the escape, while the rest of the props are allusive and quickly change. In the last scene, the characters are similarly finding ways to adapt and live as emigres, while contemplating the possibility of returning to their home country one day. Delusive Khludov even resolves to return, confess and enrol to the Red Army. But will he find the same Russia that they all have left?
- By Mikhail Bulgakov, adapted by Howard Coyler
- Directed by Scott Le Crass
- Cast includes: Michael Edwards, Callum Cameron, Josephine Rogers, David Bromley
- Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, London
- Until 1st February 2014
- Time: 19:45
- Review by Irina Kostyleva
- 17th January 2014