Edinburgh Fringe 2017
For 13-year-old Maklena, the Soviet Union is the best fairy tale yet. She imagines life in the land of the Soviets and dreams of joining the revolution. Her landlord, Zbrozhek, has a different ambition: to buy the local factory and see his name in golden letters. When their dreams are put on the line, reality and fantasy become confused and communist and capitalist ideals are taken to the extreme. This is the world premiere of the English translation of Kulish’s last play – written just before his arrest in 1934 and later execution by the Soviet authorities.
Maklena Grasa (1933) was the last play by Mykola Kulish, a Ukrainian playwright who was publicly denounced by the All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in Moscow in August 1934 as a bourgeois-nationalist playwright. He was arrested In December that year and later shot. Although exonerated after the death of Stalin in 1952 it seems that few of his manuscripts survived to be revived.
Maria Montague has explored his work and translated Maklena Grasa into English and directs this new production, ‘Maklena’. In its original form it is two hours long but has been pared to the narrative bones for this fringe. This does leave one wondering what happened to that character or that hint at a sub plot, but overall, the effect is to want to see it in full production. Montague admits that, whilst painful, the experience of editing the play to the shortened 50 minute version will be valuable in creating the final version.
Maklena, the 13 year old daughter of a family beset by illness and poverty, unable even to pay the rent and facing eviction, is an idealist. She believes that the Soviet Union is the best fairy tale ever, and that once she can go there all their hardships will be ended. Their landlord Zbrozhek has rather more Capitalist ambitions; to buy the local factory and be his own boss (rather than the rent collector). As their dreams are put on the line their differing ideals are put to the test.
The translation has produced a lively script that flows easily, peppered with occasional verbatim Ukrainian idioms. Montague, as director, creates a world out of a few pieces of white box set and a set of steps (designed by Jack Parham) . Everything serves more than one purpose; one piece is at one moment Zbozhek’s desk, the next a kennel inhabited by Maklena’s dog and Padur, the local insurgent. Set changes are often the death of fringe shows, losing all the carefully built up pace but Montague has the cast move everything and, as far as possible, as part of the action. The effect is almost seamless. She also makes use of simple puppetry with birds made of newspaper, Maklena’s father represented by a workman’s jacket, the dog by a boot…
The cast of seven from the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club are dressed simply, in black to which they add a scarf, a skirt, a jacket to create the character. Everyone, except Alona Bach, playing Maklena takes several parts and play them all well. Bach provides an excellent central performance as a convincing 13 year old, playful, earnest or angry by turn, worried about her mother but dreaming of the future.
The original music by Olvier Vibrans is moody and effective with a nod to Ukrainian folk music adds to the atmosphere of the piece.
Overall, this is an excellent student show that deserves further development and a professional production.