From Russia with relevance

Evening Standard

Sputnik Theatre Company specialises in bringing new Russian work to London. Next month it unravels the story of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in detention after suing Putin’s government, director Noah Birksted-Breen tells Oliver Poole.

Ask people their knowledge of Russian theatre and it is likely to begin and end with Anton Chekhov. A few may cite the works of Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Bulgakov or even Alexander Ostrovsky — but knowledge of the contemporary scene is largely non-existent.

London director Noah Birksted-Breen hopes to help correct this omission with his debut of One Hour Eighteen Minutes, one of the most relevant of modern Russian plays, in London this month.

“People generally don’t know much about Russia here,” he says. “Hopefully those who come will know more than before. Ever since 2005, there has been a tremendous number of new plays and many of them, like this one, address what is happening now.”

One Hour Eighteen Minutes is certainly set in the contemporary Russia of Pussy Riot and crackdowns on opposition protesters familiar to London audiences from watching the evening news.

It tells the story of the last 78 minutes of the life of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested after uncovering one of the largest tax frauds in Russian history. He died in pre-trial detention in 2009, after a year held in squalid conditions spent battling a corrupt judicial system.

Largely told from extracts from official transcripts, letters written by Magnitsky while in prison and interviews conducted by the playwright, Moscow-based Elena Gremina, after his death, it bears more similarities to the work of our own David Hare than any of Russian literature’s traditional cannon.

Birksted-Breen says this should not come as a surprise. He founded the Sputnik Theatre Company to stage Russian plays for a British audience as he believes the country’s theatre is undergoing an artistic revolution similar to that seen in Britain in the Fifties and Sixties as playwrights tackle political and social issues head on.

Since 2005 the company has not only produced new Russian plays in the UK, including the Russian Theatre Festival at London’s Soho Theatre in 2010, but developed Russian plays through commissions and staged cultural events with literature and music to highlight this phenomena. “As the Russian people demand more it seems the leadership cracks down,” says Birksted-Breen.

“It becomes an issue of how people can hold differing views. What is happening at the moment politically is changing how playwrights talk, think and write.”

In evidence, he cites the works of Maksym Kurochkin, Yaroslava Pulinovich, the Durnenkov brothers and Yuri Klavdiev, all of whom have written which remarkable directness about life in Russia under Vladimir Putin. Klavdiev, for example, used his own experience as a member of a violent gang member in the industrial city of Togliatti to inform his plays.

According to Birksted-Breen, this is largely because theatre, although a minority interest, is also a public medium in Russia where freedom of expression survives. “Controlling the television is one thing but controlling the theatre is another thing entirely,” he explains.

That means plays can matter far more than the size of the audiences they play to. “When One Hour Eighteen Minutes was first shown in Moscow in 2009 it was difficult for the media to talk openly about the [Magnitsky] case,” Birksted-Breen says. “But they could do stories on the play of that story.”

One Hour Eighteen Minutes runs at the New Diorama Theatre from November 13 to December 1 (0844 209 0344; sputniktheatre.co.uk) unshaven girl займ на карту онлайн https://zp-pdl.com/get-quick-online-payday-loan-now.php https://zp-pdl.com/best-payday-loans.php hairy girls

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