New Era Players

Collaborators

Written by John Hodge​

Directed by Nigel Winter

Performed in December 2016

  • Supping with the devil

    Author torn with guilt over his collaboration with Stalin's regime

    New Era Players: Collaborators, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Wednesday, November 30, to Saturday, December 3, and Tuesday, December 6, to Saturday, December 10

    New Era's splendid production of John Hodge's compelling play Collaborators explores the relationship between banned author Mikhail Bulgakov and Joseph Stalin. It is set in Moscow in 1938 and the play begins with a surrealist nightmare where Bulgakov is chased around his small flat by Stalin and is attacked with a typewriter.

    Sharing this shabby apartment, where there is no heating or hot water, is Bulgakov's devoted, fretful wife, Yelena (Georgie Gale), former aristocrat Vassily (Peter Hendrickx) and history teacher Praskovya (Sally Scrivener). Living in the cupboard is the young, enthusiastic party member Sergei (Alexander Greenwood-Forkin).

    There is an uneasy and surprising alliance between Bulgakov and Stalin, as he despised all that his tyrannical regime stood for. But Bulgakov faces a dilemma as his latest play Molière, about the French playwright, has been banned. He is told in no uncertain terms by the NKVD secret policeman Vladimir, menacingly played by David Tute, that if he writes a heroic play about Stalin's younger life for his 60th birthday within a month, then the ban will be lifted.

    Neil Taylor brings a superb gravitas to the role of the ailing Bulgakov, who is suffering from kidney disease and facing up to his agonising decision to give up his principles and write the play, in an almost Faustian pact. As the Soviet leader, Keith Keer gives an impressive and powerfully manipulative performance. He visits Bulgakov in a secret cellar below the Kremlin and when he experiences 'writers block', Stalin offers to write the play – "leave the slave labour to me" – in exchange for Bulgakov's assistance in helping with bureaucratic Politburo affairs of state, in running the country, with catastrophic results. There is a chilling relationship between them as they share vodka at their regular meetings and Bulgakov's world becomes more bearable with such luxuries as food, coffee and hot water for his household.

    Stan Dooley gives a poignant portrayal as the young, idealistic poet and novelist Grigory, who admires Bulgakov, but has a tragic ending. There are strong supporting performances from Anouk van Dijk as Anna, Thomas Buckingham as the silent policeman Stephan, David Zeke as the lecherous Doctor, Daphne George as Eva and Robert Beagle and Cheryl Nichol as the actors who perform Young Stalin in rehearsal. However, this satirical, dark fantasy play does not end as expected, as Bulgakov's feverish dreams confuse reality with hallucinations, but remains a metaphor for life during the soviet communist era.

    John Cordery's atmospheric lighting effectively creates the different locations and Nigel Winter directs this intriguing play with confidence and integrity.

    ROBIN STRAPP

    © 2016 Newbury Weekly News

  • Mikhail Bulgakov - Neil Taylor
    Yelena - Georgie Gale
    Joseph Stalin - Keith Keer
    Vassily - Peter Hendrickx
    Praskovya - Sally Scrivener
    Sergei - Alexander Greenwood-Forkin
    Grigory - Stan Dooley
    Anna - Anouk van Dijk
    Vladimir - David Tute
    Stepan - Tom Buckingham
    Doctor - David Zeke
    Actor 1 - Robert Beagley
    Actor 2 - Cheryl Nichol
    Eva - Daphne George

    Other parts played by members of the company.

  • Moscow, 1938. A dangerous place to have a sense of humour; even more so a sense of freedom. Mikhail Bulgakov, living amongst dissidents, stalked by secret police, has both. And then he's offered a poisoned chalice; a commission to write a play about Stalin to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. Inspired by historical fact, Collaborators embarks on a surreal journey into the fevered imagination of the writer as he loses himself in a macabre and disturbingly funny relationship with the omnipotent subject of his drama.