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Collaboratorsby John Hodge
Synopses & Reviews
The Collaborators is set in 1938 in Moscow: a dangerous place to have a sense of humor; even more so a sense of freedom. Mikhail Bulgakov, living among dissidents, stalked by secret police, has both. He has just been informed that his latest play is banned, conveniently opening up a gap in [his] schedule,” as a secret policeman says drily to the writer. Consequently, hes offered—indeed, he cannot refuse—a poisoned chalice: a commission to write a play about Stalin in honor of his sixtieth birthday. The NKVD has even kindly found him an office in the notorious Lubyanka prison: a venue that would focus any writers mind. The play explores the process of writing Batum,” a play celebrating Stalins youth.
The play embarks on a surreal journey into the fevered imagination of the writer as he loses himself in a macabre and disturbingly funny relationship with the omnipotent subject of his drama. The surreal style nods in the direction of Bulgakovs The Master and Margaritaand draws us into the writers feverish mind as he struggles with ill health, his conscience and his conflicting impulses. But it also conveys the daily absurdity of life in Stalins Russia, in which a factory worker may live in your cupboard, hot water come and go at whim and people may be shot as traitors because they display objective characteristics”.
This is a play that slithers from reality into absurdity with disorientating ease. In the most surreal sequences, Bulgakov embarks on a series of secret trysts with Stalin. The leader offers to help out by writing the play for him, in exchange for the playwright doing a bit of paperwork. As Stalin bangs away on the typewriter, Bulgakov finds himself first signing off on steel quotas, then on execution orders. Its a sequence that brilliantly conveys the slow erosion of principle and certainty involved in collaboration and exemplifies the dark comedy that conveys the impossible choices facing any artist in a dictatorship.
Taking its inspiration from historical fact, Collaborators explores the intense, paradoxical, and ultimately deadly friendship between the dissident writer Mikhail Bulgakov and Josef Stalin, centering around a play which Bulgakov was forced to write to commemorate Stalin's sixtieth birthday.
Stalin has been in power for 16 years and his purges are at their zenith. Bulgakovs The Master and Margarita is lying unpublished in a desk drawer, and his latest play Molière has been banned following terrible reviews in Pravda. As a secret policeman dryly puts it, this has opened up a convenient gap in his schedule.” This gap” is to be filled by a play of Stalins life which Bulgakov will write. The NKVD has even kindly found him an office in the notorious Lubyanka prison: a venue that would focus any writers mind. But as Bulgakov loses himself in a world of secrets, threats, and paradoxes, and begins to fall ill from the liver disease that would eventually kill him, his feverish dreams of conversations with Stalin become reality in his brain, just as the states lies become truths in his play.
Collaborators is a darkly comic portrait of the impossible choices facing any artist in a dictatorship.
About the Author
John Hodge is a British screenwriter, noted for his screenplays of Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, A Life Less Ordinary, and The Beach. Collaborators is his first play.
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Arts and Entertainment » Drama » British and Irish Anthologies