Moscow 1938. Not the best place to have a sense of humour, let alone a yearning for freedom. So when prominent Russian writer, Mikhail Bulgakov, living among dissidents and hounded by the secret police, is given a surprise commission to pen a biographical (and hagiographical) drama about Joseph Stalin’s early years, to celebrate the leader’s 60th birthday, he soon discovers there is a high price to pay.
In real life, Bulgakov’s work was regularly banned, but his play The White Guard was one of Stalin’s personal favourites. Inspired by historical fact, Collaborators plunges into the frenzied imagination of the writer as he loses himself in a bizarre and disturbingly funny ‘role-reversal’ relationship with the dictator of the Soviet Union.
As the surreal fantasy plays out in a relentless psychological game of cat-and-mouse, the compromises and humiliations inflicted on artists by those in power are thrown into sharp relief. This clever and blistering new play is a pointed look at the role and value of the artist in society.
Making her New Theatre debut, director Moira Blumenthal comes to this production backed by a wealth of experience, most recently a string of successful Jewish stories at Eternity Theatre, in association with Shalom: Coming to See Aunt Sophie; Timothy Daly’s The Man in the Attic; You Will Not Play Wagner; My Name is Asher Lev; and Chosen. Later this year, she will return there to direct The God of Isaac.
Other productions include Shoehorn Sonata and Leaning Towards Infinity (Ensemble); Falsettos (Sydney Opera House); Skin Tight (Stables); David Hare’s Via Dolorosa in Sydney and South Africa; and The Woman in Black, Into the Woods, Deathtrap, and Amadeus (Orlando, USA).
“The challenge to direct this unique and audacious play about Joseph Stalin and his relationship with the Russian writer, Mikhail Bulgakov, was impossible to resist,” says Moira. “It’s so rich in characters and language and the story is fascinating.
“And working with the folk at New Theatre has brought me into an environment where the professional development of theatre practitioners, in whatever capacity, is the raison d’être for this amazing organisation. Everyone who signs on for a project at The New does it for the right reason i.e. for the love of the art. And that is so refreshing!”
Playwright John Hodge studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh but after penning the film Shallow Grave (1994) he gave up the idea of being a doctor and moved to London to concentrate on his writing. In 1996, he adapted the novel Trainspotting into a screenplay for which he gained an Academy Award nomination and a BAFTA win.
Collaborators is his first stage play and arose from a failed attempt to write a film about Stalin (the subject was too vast, too elusive). It subsequently won him the Olivier Award for Best New Play.
New Theatre presents the Sydney premiere of this hysterically funny, complex, exhilarating, roller-coaster of a play, and to feature another of their large ensemble casts, for which they are known. Plus our political history is such that a play that features Stalin (the communist hero who morphed into a monster) was hard to resist.
Director: Moira Blumenthal Featuring: Michael Arvithis, Audrey Blyde, Ben Brighton, Elsa J Cherlin, Richard Cotter, Peter Farmer, Dave Kirkham, Madeline MacRae, Dominique Purdue, Joshua Shediak, Andrew Simpson, John van Putten, Annette van Roden, David Woodland Set & Costume Designer: Colleen Cook Lighting Designer: Martin Kinnane Sound Designer: Patrick Howard Assistant Director: Martin Kelly Production Manager: Sahn Millington Production Assistant: Barbara Taylor Set Design Assistant: Mary-Ann Buckley Costume Assistants: Lucy Shorrock, Diane Prior, Lynne Hanrahan Stage Manager: Ricci Costa Operators: Ole Borch, Johannes Swaton
New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown
Season continues to 6 July 2019
Information and Bookings: www.newtheatre.org.au
Image: New Theatre presents Collaborators – photo by Bob Seary