by Fraser Grace.
Tour to 12 November
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 October.
Thoughtful, vibrant new play – informative, intriguingly-structured and gripping.
Photos of the older, much-decorated Mikhail Kalashnikov suggest beneficent wisdom in age, while in 1949 – two years after he invented the rifle that bears his own initial and the year of its creation, the AK-47 – his picture reveals a strong, purposive face. Fraser Grace’s brilliant new play reveals what lies behind those images.
Its eight sections reflect Kalashnikov being one of eight siblings to survive, and, especially, the simple, eight-component rifle he created. A child could assemble it, and his own grand-daughter does so, on screen. A child can fire it too, as conscripted child-soldiers have in lands and terrains far-removed from the cold woods and lake of the inventor’s dacha.
After his fascinating life-story, the inevitable collage of killing is a theatrical high-point concealing the trap of dramatic overkill. Yet the play, never predictable, survives by using the images of slaughter for Kalashnikov’s final reflections.
His rifle is impervious to dust, grit or rain; it never jams. And Mikhail is as stubbornly resistant to any challenge to the Soviet system. Ceaselessly inventing, the one-time social outcast became a Soviet hero, skating on thin ice in the Stalin era, but critical only of Gorbachev and Yeltsin.
Andrew Neil’s shambling figure, with his irregular phrasing, captures a man whose mind works through shapes and figures, not words, someone too set in his ways to question them, even when a journalist – who turns out to have his own agenda – arrives to interview him.
Grace varies the biography skilfully, taking Kalashnikov out for the middle scenes, where comment comes from his daughter Macca. Maggie O’Brien captures her willingness to talk, putting-on makeup when Volkov arrives, making tea, smiling and commenting on the old man, then turning protective at Volkov’s more awkward questions. And the 12-year old Elena’s scenes, from the woods, shown on video, bring a forceful innocence to the Kalashnikov, which can protect her from polar bears but can turn multiple killings into childsplay.
Helena Bell’s finely-performed production perfectly balances performance and technology in this piece about the technology, and also the human mind, that has made a supposedly life-saving killing machine.
Kalashnikov: Andrew Neil.
Makka: Maggie O’Brien.
Volkov: Owen Oakeshott.
Elena: Anastasia Drew.
Director: Helena Bell.
Designer: Christopher Faulds.
Lighting/Film: David Rafique.
Sound/Film: Grant Watson.