“Collaborators” by John Hodge
Nottingham New Theatre.
Nottingham New Theatre.
Collaborators is a 2011 play about the "surreal fantasy" of a relationship between Mikhail Bulgakov, the prominent Russian writer, and Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union. The play takes place in Moscow from 1938-1940, when Stalin was implementing the Great Purge in which several million people were exiled, imprisoned, or executed.
Bulgakov has just finished his play "The Life of Monsieur de Molière" which his friends hail as being a masterpiece. The night after the premiere, he is visited by two secret policemen from the NKVD. They tell him the play is banned and will never be shown again unless he co-operates with them in writing a "hack" play on the life of the young Joseph Stalin. At first Bulgakov resists their bullying and refuses to co-operate, even though this could endanger his life.
Their terrorizing of Bulgakov intensifies until he pretends to start work, but sits at the typewriter unable to put words to paper. Then one night he receives a phone call and a mystery voice offers him help if he goes to a certain metro station and enters a door hidden in the tunnel......
This is yet another play I'd not heard of previously but what a fascinating little story this is.
Just looking at the programme before we were led in set my expectations as to the size of this comedy play. The people involved behind the scenes number 28, plus a cast of 13. I knew that this was going to be a big production, in every way!
Imagine "Blackadder", "Monty Python", a smidgen of "Benny Hill", "The Young Ones" and you'll get the idea of the style of comedy. At times anarchic, but always a lorra lorra laffs. Bordering on being a farce, well it fulfilled the entrance ways needed for a farce, in fact there were six entrance and exits from the main performing area.
A brilliant cast made up of actors who's had quite a bit of experience before, plus newbies and others who had just one or two NNT performances under their belts. Without looking at the programme though you may not have guessed which were which. Such was the professional, tight knit collaboration of the cast.
Let me highlight a few of my standout performers and roles.
Callum Walker as the playwright Bulgakov was excellent throughout.
Jack Ellis played Stalin, and who knew that the Russian leader was a Geordie with a sense of humour with a flair for writing plays?
Margaux Valarche was Bulgakov's wife. A constant in his ever changing life style. This is Margaux's debut for the NNT.
Alex Piechowski was wonderful to behold as Vladimir, the bullying policeman who ordered Bulgakov to write the play. Vladimir also succeeded in ticking off some from his bucket list by Directing, Producing and by the looks of it choreographing the play wot Bulgakov wrote. Loved the campness of the "showbizz" Vladimir and some wonderful over the top "luvvieness". Great comedy role and the naturalness of Alex's acting isn't what you may expect from yet another NNT debut performer.
Chris Odulele also makes his debut as the other policeman. A quiet, brooding start but that changes towards the end.
Reilly Salmon played a few roles but it was his "huffing" driver character that made me smile most.Another debut performer at NNT.
Matteo Bagaini had another wonderful comedy role as the Doctor who was more interested in finding out one of Bulgakov's former actresses than concentrating on his medical duties. Some wonderful facial expressions as well.
Nat Henderson was wonderfully scatty as Sergei, the young boy living in the cupboard.
Let's face it the whole cast were excellent, Amy Crighton, Rose Edgworth, Jack Lahiff. Leonora Hamilton, Bertie Breeching all gave brilliant performances.
Directed by Will Berrington and produced by Josie Hayden, this was a job and a half. One because the play is two and a half hours long and secondly because of all the different characters. they did it though and a cracking pace was kept up throughout. Wonderful energy from all.
Lighting Designer Nathan Penney also did a cracking job from the very start with the "nightmare" section of the play. the lighting and the banging of the doors created quite an intense and scary atmosphere, giving way to the brilliant comedy we experienced here.
The variety of plays that NNT put on is a joy for any theatre goer because they can afford to take risks and not always perform the "run of the mill" plays. It's always an education when I see something at NNT and they never fail to produce top quality stuff. Plus it's nice to see that this season, I'm not always the "older" bloke sitting in a theatre of students and young audience members. It's about time more people knew about this exciting group of people.
“Collaborators” is on at the New Theatre until Saturday 2 December 2017.