Tonight we went down to the Everyman in Belsize Park to watch a live streaming of Collaborators, a play by John Hodges (Trainspotting, Open Grave) from the National Theatre. The play is set in 1938 in Stalinist Moscow and is based on playwright Mikhail Bulgakov being "asked" by the NKVD (forerunners of the KGB) to write a play for Josef Stalins 60th birthday, based on his early years. Bulgakov was an underground hero for his plays such as "The White Russian" and "The Master and Margarita", which were thinly veiled attacks on totalitarian regimes.
Now I've not been to the Everyman for a long time. I was pleasantly surprised by the refurbishment. It probably has the comfiest chairs of any cinema I've been to. It also has a waiter service at seat, with a bottle of Merlot at a most reasonable £16, along with other wines and beers. It is certainly a relaxing and comfortable way to watch a live streamed play (or a film), without travelling into the West End.
I traveled extensively in the USSR during the communist era (albiet the tail end), at times illegally travelling with friends. These days, at times I find some comments of various left leaning friends rather amusing, having seen the totalitarian state in action. Whilst the Gorbachov regime was nothing like the sheer murderous brutality of Stalin, at the time people still minded themselves and were extremely cautious about speaking openly. Hodges manages to capture the stifling paranioa of 1938 Moscow and the sheer spitefulness of the Stalin regime. It is also funny. Russian literature is something not too many people in this country are well acquanted with. The culture and the history of the country is fascinating and made a great topic for such a play. In these times of turmoil and cuts, it is also good to have a stark reminder of just how bad a truly totalitarian regime really is.
The play was nearly three hours long, with an interval in the middle of 20 mins. My eyelids didn't flutter once, which was a testament to the sheer power and excitement of the production. Much recommended.
The one thing we can learn from such plays is that liberty, freedom and transparency are precious. Whilst we are a long way from a Stalinist regime of purges, terror, show trials, summary executions and denunciations, we cannot afford to let ourselves be complacent. Many rights we took for granted 20 years ago have been eroded. When George Orwell wrote 1984, the concept of a society where we were watched 24 hours a day seemed absurd. Now it seems like a way of life. Every time a liberty is eroded we are given a reason that makes perfect sense at the time. Sadly politicians seem far less keen on making the case for preserving rights and not spying on us. Seemingly out of the blue this week, I've had a huge number of hits on a blog on the subject of the hypocricy of John Prescott, complaining about press intrusions into his privacy, whilst being a member of a government which cared nothing for the rights of individuals. It is in some way satisfying to read a blog from 2009 and think to myself, I got it spot on.
The point of collaborators is that if we start compromising our principles, there is no end to it. I'd recommend you check it out.