I have been introduced to the magic of Russian theatre from quite early on in my childhood and since my teens have considered Moscow’s Sovremennik to be one of my favourite theatres. The plays were always wonderful, the actors magnificent and its artistic director, Galina Borisovna Volchek-well, she is just an amazing institution who has given so much to the Russian culture with her creativity and theatrical wisdom and talent and managerial skills-yes, all of the above combined in one person.
A friend of mine told me about the theatre’s first foray into London’s West End-Noel Coward Theatre in St.Martin’s Lane to be exact and once I got over the original excitement, I managed to secure myself a ticket for one of the performances. Last Friday I went to see a play called ‘Into the whirlwind’.
Now, let me say that if you have any chance to see that play in the future, just go and see it without thinking twice because it’s extraordinary and Marina Neelova who plays the lead is just beyond description-she plays the role with such talent and immerses herself so much into her performance that when the audience gave her a 10 minute standing ovation at the end she couldn’t even smile-she was still trembling a little and had this haunting look on her face-I cannot fathom to know how much strength such performance takes, because it felt like she was putting every fibre of her body into her character.
The stage production of Eugenia Ginzburg’s memoires of the 17 years of her life spent in Stalin’s Gulag has been part of Sovremennik’s repertoir for a while but it doesn’t seem any less current than let’s say 15 years ago.
I don’t know if that play touches women more than men-that I can’t judge, but I cried four times in the course of the two hour play and came out of the theatre quietly dazed, asking myself again and again how did Russian people survive that era, when thousands of innocent people were shot dead or sent to prison, children left not only parent-less but with the tag of ‘child of the enemy of the state’, many subjected to innumerable suffering and torture for many, many years-the list of horrors can go on and on. The play allows moments of wry humour and the audience does laugh but the content and the music chill you to the bone and you just shiver or cry…….
My neighbours in the theatre row, a very kindly elderly British couple, kept on asking me many questions during the interval, once they realised that I was Russian and I just raved and raved about the magnificence and cultural richness of Sovremennik but was a little startled when the woman asked me if Russia’s younger generation can relate to that story. Life goes on and the further away that part of the history goes, the trickier it is to comprehend fully-after all, the generation that lived during those times and survived is slowly disappearing- and history books are constantly being re-written and disputed……..
As the play drew to its end people started rising in their seats and clapping, many wiping away the tears and pausing in the powerful aftermath of an incredible performance, seeing Sergey Garmash clapping vigorously to his theatre colleagues from the audience and Galina Borisovna Volchek quietly and somewhat nervously observing the audience….I felt like I went back in time and was in Moscow again, proud of my culture and the art that made our history so vividly real, it was sending chills through my bones.