Collaborators, written by John Hodge (Screenwriter of Trainspotting and The Beach), is an interesting look into Stalin’s Russia through the eyes of Mikhail Bulgakov, one of Russia’s most controversial authors. Bulgakov is portrayed by Alex Jennings (The Queen) whilst Simon Russell Beale (The Deep Blue Sea) tackles the role of Stalin. The production centre’s around a play of Stalin’s life which Bulgakov is forcefully commissioned to complete. Intially the author is uncooperative however, thanks to the secret police he is unable to escape the task. The difficulty Bulgakov has with writing the play leads to a secret collaboration with Stalin and this is where the play really takes off, as the terror of Stalin’s regime unfolds. It felt incredibly realistic owing to the fantastic script and cast it boasts.
The play was written humorously, changing the way in which the reign of terror is portrayed. I felt that the comedic approach of Hodge’s script was very effective, making it incredibly enjoyable whilst also showing Stalin’s malice. Simon Russell Beale’s Stalin received the most laughs and his depiction showed his versatility as an actor. Alex Jennings was also amusing as Bulgakov however, it was his representation of Bulgakov’s demise that impressed me most. The transformation of the Olivier theatre was incredible. The stage was eccentric, surround by an array of winding, quirky, paths which acted as the route to different areas in Russia. It felt like something out of a Bulgakov novel which was very successful in drawing me into the production. I imagine this was the intention of the stage designer. Furthermore, the music and direction were overwhelmingly Russian, all adding to the atmosphere of the play.
All in all I felt that this was a fantastic production, the stage design, direction, script and cast were impeccable and the plot was more than enough to hook me into the Bulgakov’s world. Although the play has completed its stage run, it can be seen as part of the ‘National Theatre Live’ productions, beginning December 1st.
Written by Roxy Simons.