Sunday, 2 May 2004

Traitors by Stephen Sewell, May 2, 2004

Traitors by Stephen Sewell
 La Mama, Courthouse Theatre, 2 to  15 May, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on may 2

We could be forgiven for thinking Stephen Sewell's 1979 work, Traitors, a play of the new millenium.

Although it is set in the 20s in Post-Revolutionary Russia during Stalin's reign, its political themes are relevant today. What makes it most obviously a play of the 70s is its didactic quality. The script is laden with information about the revolution, Communism and Stalin's brutal regime. At times it feels like a lesson in Russian history.

The content has a great deal in common with Sewell's 2003 play, Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany that dealt with paranoia about terrorism in the USA, post September 11. The majority of the play is during 1927 with prologue and epilogue in 1941.

 Anna (Daniela Farinacci) travels from Moscow where she is a Party member opposed to Stalin's regime. In Leningrad she meets with Rubin (Jay Bowen) to form a faction combining Oppositionists in both cities. She justifiably suspects spies everywhere.

On her return train journey to Moscow, she begins a sordid, secretive affair with Krasin, (OK) (Neil Pigot) who, unbeknowns to Anna, is an Army Officer for the Party.

Krasin, is appalled by the escalating violence of Stalin's regime since his six month absence in London. Party officials are murdered, oppositionists tortured and demonstrators gunned down. If he does not toe the party line, he too will be suspect.

Melanie Beddie directs this 25th anniversary production of the play with great sensitivity and style. She focuses on the story and performances. She links scenes seamlessly with inventive, simple and unobtrusive scene changes.

Farinacci is both passionate and vulnerable as Anna. Neil Pigot strikes an impeccable balance between wit, warmth, moral dilemma and violence as the besieged Krasin.

Bruce Myles makes credible the immoral pragmatism of Lebeshev, Krasin's superior officer. Ming-Zhu Hii, Beth Child and Jay Bowen are very strong in support roles.

Kathryn Sproul's stark design accentuates the chilling environment and is lit atmospherically by Daniel Zika.

Sometimes, the weight of off-stage characters, historical facts and political philosophy is overwhelming. However, the story is compelling and the horror of the Stalinist period is highlighted in an intimate narrative.

LOOK FOR: Backlit portraits of Russian Communist leaders in the design.

By Kate Herbert

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