If ever there were a God-given time for political satire, it's been these last few weeks. The Clink, currently at the Riverside Studios, for instance, has benefited from its sudden topicality brought about by Thatcher's death throes. In this atmosphere you wouldn't expect a lot of punch from a sixty-year-old Soviet satire and, alas, you'd be dead right. The Marxist-Leninist dogmatism lambasted here has already been holed below the waterline by recent events in Eastern Europe, so any power in the piece must come from its own content rather than any kind of topicality.
Dramatically, it's a thin and patchy piece: Vladimir Mayakovsky was a playwright wholly concerned with commenting critically upon the contemporary system, without any eye to artistic posterity. This relegates the exercise of actually staging it to a sort of theatrical archaeology. The only entertainment comes from pantomimic overplaying of characters who are in any case stereotypes – the cracked scientist, the pompous bureaucrat, the naive traveller-back-in-time from a future Age of Communism (cops) – and I'm afraid it isn't even accomplished pantomime. Right now, in this case, life is so much more interesting than art.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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