Mayakovsky : June 2017
My second play, a new piece of experimental theatre that explored the life and death of one of Russia's greatest poets. Mayakovsky was commissioned by Rich Mix Arts Centre as part of their centenary commemoration of the Russian Revolution, #Revolution17, in cahoots with the brilliant Dash Arts.
Mayakovsky was part of a night of new theatre entitled Land of Scoundrels. Below you can watch three excerpts from the play. It starred Simon Christian, Edie Deffebach, Becca Dunn and Alec Bennie with a new set by Thomas Duggan and new music by The Dirty Three.
About the play:
The play centres around Mayakovsky's final days before his apparent suicide in 1930. It places him in a kind of limbo, visualising his own funeral and remembrance in the isolation he experiences when out of favour with the Soviet regime and despised by the party line writers of the time. Often playful, abstract and non-linear, the play aims to be an eternal rendering of the last days of the Revolution's great, tragic poet. We see Mayakovsky in conversation with fellow poets Sergei Esenin, Velimir Khlebnikov and the last person to see him alive, Veronika Polonskaya. It is a play about infamy and reputation, about Russia as perceived by Europe, about the limitations of poetry itself, and language too, and the role the latter has in love and friendship - Mayakovsky is about living after death and how empty a thought this might be.
About the production:
Mayakovsky was performed as a double bill, alongside a new work from brilliant Viennese dramaturg Petra Freimund. Her work explores the 1917 Women's Revolution. Both productions benefit from a brand new stage design from artist and material engineer Thomas Duggan, who has constructed an immense geometric sculpture which will inhabit the Rich Mix theatre stage. The production will also feature new music by the remarkable Dirty Three, a recording gifted to the play by the band.
A note on: Mayakovsky, my play, has been something else : written after production on June 11th 2017
What I've tried to do, with this play, is fulfil the dictum that a good work of art can only create the opposite effect of its intention - that is I set out to lie based on truth, so that the audience would feel truth based on lies. It was a generous process - ground up, collective, energetic, exciting. And I think, amidst the obvious density of the play, people to get the gist.
The experience of writing and directing Mayakovsky (for the Land of Scoundrels night of theatre, at Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, for the Revolution 17 season, which opened this past Friday June 9th) has been a privilege, especially to be commissioned to do so. And It has not yet worn off, the experience of having good actors perform words I’ve mangled, and there is something undoubtedly intoxicating about theatre, as a practise, way beyond poetry and something before performance. It is so fundamentally collaborative, reactive, uncontrollable, inaccurate … it’s entirely alive and human, and the smallest change or development or gesture – be it physical or linguistic or intellectual – can shift entire narratives of meaning. It is a playground in that sense, in begins in failure and needs trust. These are things I am attracted to.
This play is modernist in its dialogue, it uses poetry and found text and slight disjunctions, but has a more theatrical, playful, physical tone - its definitely the most accessible thing I've written for the stage.. It’s about death, a very certain kind of nostalgic, faux romantic death, the death of a poet, who like the martyr he became, might not have needed to actually exist to serve his purpose. I’m always sure of what kind of writing I want to do for theatre, I feel confident in my purpose, but every time I do notice some in the audience sag under the weight and intricacy of what I'm trying to do, I do feel conflicted, if not saddened. There's something not quite there yet, I've not yet written anything brilliant. I just find realism and exaggeration and melodrama so offputting, so frightening, that I suppose at times I must be overcompensating.
Petra Freimund, a very experienced dramaturg has been a great person to share a double bill with, her experience invaluable, and my old friend Thomas Duggan has produced the most incredible set. His work has made my play. It is a spectacular sight, fitting for any theatre in the world.
The actors have been amazing, all of them generous and insightful, all of them taking the characters to the point I imagined and often beyond. Really it’s one the very best experiences I’ve had with a group of actors – they have worked so hard, so mindfully, with a real energy and dedication. Simon Christian, Edie Deffebach, Rebecca Dunn, Alec Bennie. They all have engaged with my text with great respect and on the final night, which was the best of three very good performances, I felt a sure sense of comfort that the characters had reached past what might’ve been expected. That perhaps there was some moments of brilliance in this work, and it was thanks to them.
Overall a grand thing, these three days of performances, and the short time in preparation, no more than a few meetings really, in what has been a production of extremely limited resource. Perhaps it has been so resonant because of this fact. Everyone is in it because they wish to be.
Mayakovsky for Dash Arts dacha at The British Library - May 28th 2017
A brilliant project by Dash Arts, to erect a moveable Dasha outside the British Library, something they've done a fair few times and for this occasion, as part of the #Revolution17 season, I had the chance to be Velimir Khlebnikov for an hour, talking about my peer Vladimir Mayakovsky, in the summer of 1917, between the revolution's Russia faced that year. A really remarkable setting and atmosphere, the playful dictum that we were all from one hundred years ago, experiencing the momentous events of 1917 was a lovely conceit, it lended itself perfectly to mixed tenses and humour. I followed a rendition of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, pictured below, and began my guided conversation with Josephine Burton with a reading of Mayakovsky, stomping about the dacha. We then settled in to a long and fruitful discussion about the poet and the period, much of my research for my upcoming play, Mayakovsky, also for the #Revolution17, stood me in good stead. As ever Dash Arts doing fascinating work.
The Cast of Mayakovsky!
Edie Deffenbach : Previous productions include Edward Albee’s The Goat, The Importance of Being Earnest and the Edinburgh Fringe’s premiere of Angels in America Part 1. Edie trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and played Juana Ines De la Cruz in the spring production of Heresy of Love. Edie’s MA thesis analysed the Arab Spring from a performance and social theory perspective.
Rebecca Dunn : is a founding member and co-artistic director of Fluff productions. Previous productions include The Ark, The Bride and The Coffin (Old Red Lion) Bluebeard (Old Red Lion - Critics Choice) Lichentongue (Underbelly, Edinburgh Festival) World Enough and Time (The Dalston Bunker and Park Theatre) & The Taming of The Shrew and King John (Queens Film Theatre, Belfast).
Simon Christian : Trained at Vienna’s Filmcademy, graduating with honours and the Austrian National Diploma in Acting, before studying with Vienna’s English Theatre’s Youth Ensemble and the Guildford School of Acting. Previous productions include ‘Cats, Selfies and the Scattered Mind of the Incurable Dreamer’ (Space Theatre) and ‘The Collective Project’ ( Tristan Bates Theatre).
Alec Bennie : Recent productions include Macbeth (in a site specific production at the Valley of the Rocks in Exmoor) and 'The Alchemist' (Rose Playhouse). Alec graduated from Drama Studio London in 2014, appearing in 'The Possibilities (Tristan Bates) and 'How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found (New Diorama). Theatre includes, 'Iphigenia in Tauris' at the Rose Bankside, directed by Pamela Schermann, 'The Cruel Truth' (Rich Mix) 'The Way To A Man's Heart' (London Short Play Festival), as well as recently qualifying as a Personal Trainer.