Dark, disturbing, and dangerously comic are just a few ways to describe NNT’s production of John Hodge’s play, Collaborators. The audience are instantly captivated by the surreal journey into the bizarre imagination of the writer as he loses himself in a chilling and oddly comic relationship with Stalin. The actors deliver a brilliant job of acting as multiple characters whilst keeping the audience engaged through a series of scenes that depict a satirical version of Stalinist Russia.
“Demonstrates just how threatening the authorities were”
Collaborator sees the playwright Bulgakov, played by Callum Walker, stalked by Russia’s secret police for his sense of humour and sense of freedom, two of the most dangerous things to have in Moscow 1938. The play documents the way that Bulgakov’s work was often censored and banned by the regime, later being offered an infected chalice: a commission to write a hagiographic play celebrating Young Joseph Stalin. It certainly appeared to be an unusually submissive project for a writer who had great creative courage, but it demonstrates just how threatening the authorities were at the time.
This production breaks the chains of realism to present a gripping and comic drama, which is arguably the best way to tackle the atrocious brutality of the USSR and Stalin’s regime.
“Colour truly enhanced the synchronised dialogue”
Drawing on historical themes such as Stalinism and the NKVD, this performance contained violence, sexual assault, and suicide which both the producer, Josie Hayden, and the director, Will Berrington, have successfully executed with maturity and sensitivity. In particular, the suicide was acted out in such a way through the use of lighting. Nathan Penney, the lighting director, did a great job in creating an orange hue over the character of Grigory whilst simultaneously having a sharp white hue above Anna. This effective use of colour truly enhanced the synchronised dialogue of these two characters.
This is one of the reasons why the cast and crew’s work was so captivating and enthralling; the different elements fused well to create a memorable piece, amplified by the convincing performances and dedication to the role by each cast member. Walker as Bulgakov alongside Jack Ellis as Stalin were especially outstanding in their roles. Each portrayed their characters in a way that amplified the harassed Bulgakov mindset against Stalin who delights in playing a game of chase with him.
“Their partnering provided a dangerously humorous tone”
Whilst superb acting was displayed by the entire cast, it was the comedic duo of Vladimir and Stephan, played by Alex Piechowski and Chris Odulele, that was most captivating and generated a light-hearted atmosphere amongst a heavy subject matter. Their partnering provided a dangerously humorous tone that showed the ruthlessness of Stalin’s regime to a tee. At one point, Odulele’s lighter did not work which was not meant to happen. However, he addressed this in a way that made the entire audience laugh out loud whilst remaining in character the whole time. No awkwardness was felt. The most impressive thing about the pair? This was both their first production at the New Theatre and I am certain audiences can look forward to the work that is to come by them.
The inventive use of an in-the-round stage provided a different dynamic to the set as the cast were able to use more exits. This was effective especially at the very beginning of the play and towards the end in which Bulgakov hears loud noises and knocking on many doors. Having him move around in a discombobulates state from door to door around the circular staging emphasised his poor mental state.
“Music was used throughout to create tension”
Hannah Burne as Sound Designer had a difficult task as music was used throughout to create tension and also show the tender part of Bulgakov’s relationship with his wife. This was executed well as both the music and lighting combined to generate a sense of disorientation and tension at different points within the scenes.
At times, some cast members did muddle their words slightly yet this did not take away from the overall performance that offered a true portrayal of the soul of a tyrant. This performance is a tremendous one that uses doubling, comedy, and satire to make you wonder if you should really be laughing this much…
Images courtesy of Nottingham New Theatre