Review of a stage play written by John Hodge
Venue: National Theatre, London, UK
Being an avid reader of Russian literature, the chance to see Collaborators at the National Theatre was just too good an opportunity to miss. The play, by John Hodge, is set in 1938 Moscow and centres around a commission offered to Mikhail Bulgakov to write a play to celebrate the 60th birthday of Joseph Stalin.
Bulgakov’s dissident connections meant the secret police were no strangers to his door. His inner turmoil and anxiety at working with Stalin’s evil regime were beautifully captured by Alex Jennings. But the most engrossing performance was from Simon Russell-Beale in the role of Stalin. The sinister way in which he would lightheartedly discuss the difficulties he had in making the kind of daily decisions as leader of the regime that we know from history had such horrific consequences for his people was utterly absorbing. Indeed, so successful was his portrayal, that I found myself actually feeling guilty for liking a character whom perpetrated such wicked acts against humanity – that’s the power of a great actor and script in perfect harmony.
The creative stage set and surreal production by Bob Crowley and Nicholas Hytner, respectively, bore similarities to the fantasy approach Bulgakov employed with his acclaimed book ‘The Master and Margarita’ which was censored and never published during his lifetime.
The last word, however, has to go to Simon Russell-Beale as Stalin when describing the difficulties in trying to control the mind of his enemies with the following chilling reference: ‘It’s Man versus monster, Mikhail. And the monster always wins’.