adapted by Rupert Wickham from The Whisperers by Orlando Figes.

Tour to 28 March 2012.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 January at Unicorn Theatre (Weston auditorium) London.

Historical horrors of the Soviet Union clearly stated.

Stalin, mighty force and political jackboot who ruled and disfigured Russian communism, was hardly sophisticated in his artistic judgments; though you didn’t say so in his day. For there were plenty of people to pass criticisms to the secret police. Whispers were even carried within the family. Bertolt Brecht noted the same of Nazi Germany in his Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, and the Russian version is the subject of historian Orlando Figes’ book The Whisperers.

Rupert Wickham’s solo play based on Figes makes a minor Soviet poet subject and speaker. Konstantin Simonov’s poem ‘Wait for Me’ caught the mood of wartime separations and Stalin’s sentimental side. While greater writers died, or suffered forced labour in frozen prison camps, the perfectly respectable Simonov was an honoured artist of the USSR, entitled to the comparative luxuries Communist Party hacks and favourites enjoyed.

Wickham gives him a recognisably English vein of relaxed irony in the play’s 1979 setting, by when Stalin had been dead 26 years, denounced for 23, and the last of the successors who knew him were near their end.

Stalin’s Favourite veers between a play, discovering its speaker’s character, and a lecture-memoir, filling-in factual background. Still, it’s a history worth telling, even after weighty books from Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror to Figes describing an incredible brutality which (as Russian insider Simonov cannot tell) fooled many left-wing Western intellectuals. More systematically than is recounted here, Stalin had fellow Bolshevik Kirov murdered then accused those who had helped establish communism.

And – it’s well-explained – he starved Russia’s food producers, selling grain abroad while farm-workers starved (remember Orwell’s Animal Farm pigs trading with other farmers). Rich peasants were imprisoned as hoarders. Only allegations of sabotage to explain shortfalls with over-ambitious production quotas isn’t brought out.

Quietly, sometimes with evidence of conscience, the little writer made a Soviet literary giant exposes the horrors, fears and compromises of unbearable repression. A programme note says Simonov’s son works for human rights, quoting his pointed comment about a modern Russian ruler. Truth, and humour, somehow survive.

Performer: Rupert Wickham.

Director: Peter Symonds.
Designer: Michael Folkard.
Lighting: Max Hudd.

2012-01-21 06:19:40

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