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New Russian Plays in English

Published: November 6, 2013 (Issue # 1785)



  • Actors perform in a scene from Yelena Greminas One Hour and Eighteen Minutes, directed by Noah Birksted-Breen.
    Photo: Helen Warner / Sputnik

Noah Birksted-Breens anthology of contemporary Russian drama is the first to be published in English.

Noah Birksted-Breen founded the Sputnik Theatre in London in 2005 with the purpose of championing Russian drama and theater in the U.K. Hes been doing that ever since. In the ensuing years he has presented four full-fledged productions of contemporary Russian plays all directed and translated by him. He periodically presents staged readings of new and unusual works, such as the reading of jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskys prison diaries he presented on Oct. 23.

In 2010, Breen mounted a festival of readings that introduced London audiences to plays by Yaroslava Pulinovich, Natalya Kolyada, Maxim Kurochkin and Vladimir Zuyev. In 2012, he translated and directed a production of Yelena Greminas One Hour Eighteen Minutes, about the prelude and aftermath to the death in a prison cell of Russian muckraker Sergei Magnitsky. Now, in 2013, he has published New Russian Plays, a collection of five plays he has worked with in the first eight years of his theaters life.

The book contains the descriptive phrase Five contemporary playwrights who have shaped playwriting in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Indeed, even in such a small number of plays, Birksted-Breen was able to provide a striking picture of the diversity that is Russian drama today.

Natalya Kolyada (often spelled Kaliada since she is from Belarus) is a founding member of the famous Belarus Free Theater which, due to the repressive politics of that small nation, is now in residence in England. Birksted-Breen presented her play Dreams at his festival in 2010. It is a piece for six females, aged 30 to 60, and explores the lives of women who exist on one side or the other of the norm.

Techniques of Breathing in an Air-Locked Space by Natalya Moshina, a writer from the city of Ufa, was one of Birksted-Breens earliest projects. It was his second full production in 2006. By then it had achieved some renown in Russian theater circles by way of a production done by the Free Theater in Minsk. It is an episodic piece that observes various people whose lives are closing in on them, such as an actress fed up with her profession, or a young woman struggling with cancer.

Vladimir Zuyev is from Yekaterinburg, one of the mighty army of playwrights who have studied with Nikolai Kolyada (no relation to Natalya) at the Yekaterinburg State Theater Institute. His play Mums, as translated by Birksted-Breen, was first published in 2006. It involves a group of people living on the edge of despair, as one character puts it, in and around a dingy basement during a war.

Two writers in the collection Yury Klavdiyev and Maxim Kurochkin are arguably the two most powerful playwrights working in Russian theater today. The former is from the southern Russian city of Tolyatti and emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the mid-2000s. The latter is a native of Kiev, Ukraine, but has made Moscow and the Russian language his home for the last 15 years.

Kurochkins Tityus the Irreproachable is a marvelous example of this writers effervescent, exuberant, absolutely irrepressible imagination. It is a vividly-colored dramatic canvas that uses a sci-fi setting (a spaceship in the distant future) to grapple with contemporary problems that have existed for thousands of years. Characters with names like Administrator-Killer, Architecton, Pork, Blob and Suburbius are engaged in a post-human era battle to forestall the future. You can imagine how well that comes off.

Klavdiyevs The Slow Sword, which opens the collection, is a quintessential work by this writer violent, smart and unforgiving. It tells the story of a young professional dropping out of his successful life to see how and why people live. He encounters drug addicts, thieves, rapists and victims. It is a harsh, nasty, powerful play that walks all over attempts to understand the world of these characters through a liberal or conservative philosophy. The play leads off Birksted-Breens New Russian Plays anthology, the first such collection in the English language.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Sunday, Jan. 25


Get out your running shoes for the 46th International Road of Life Marathon. Dedicated to the end of the blockade, three runs are offered 5, 21 and 42 kilometer runs starting in different places outside the city. Busses leave from 13/1 Arsenalnaya Naberezhny at 8 a.m. but check complete details and registration fees on www.newrunners.ru/race/doroga-zhizni-2015



If you are planning a wedding, head over to the Azimut Hotel, 43/1 Lermontovsky Prospekt from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The day includes live music, free dance classes and vendors selling wedding dresses, accessories, cakes and services to help make your special day perfect. Admission is free.



Monday, Jan. 26


Feeling stressed by the crisis? The Northwest Coach University at 3 Ulitsa Vostsstanaya is hosting a master class by lifecoach Tatiana Almazova. She will shed light on the coaching process, the usefulness of coaching during times of economic downturn and how coaching can improve your career and business prospects. The event starts at 7 p.m. and admission is free. Pre-register by calling 424 3700.



Discover the State Hermitage Museum's collection of English painting at a lecture by art historian Yelizaveta Renne at the Prince Galitzine Library, 46 Nab. Reki Fontanki. The event starts at 6 p.m. and the lecture will be followed by a concert of arias, songs and duets by English composer Henry Purcell. The event is free of charge.



Tuesday, Jan. 27


Celebrate the 71st anniversary of the end of the Siege of Leningrad on Palace Square with a free concert at 7 p.m. Listen to WWII-era songs and the poetry of Olga Bergholz while you peruse outdoor exhibitions dedicated to life during wartime. The event is capped off by a fireworks display at 9 p.m.



Stop by the Lexica School of Foreign Languages at 73 Ligovsky Prospekt from now until Friday for a free English lesson. The classes start at 7 p.m. and cover all levels, from Beginner to Advanced. Registration by telephone on 7641692 and a desire to improve your skills are the only prerequisites.







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