Not all Stalin plays need dwell directly upon his political ruthlessness; Olga Kuchkina emblematises it in his marriage in 1919 at the age of 40 to his secretary, eighteen-year-old Nadezhda Allilueva. In this two-hander, Josif is a sinister strategist as well as plain cunning, and is much more than the vulgarian brute of popular demonology – although he's that as well; Nadezhda's youthful ingenuousness is more than obliterated by exposure to this corrupting force, and even when she returns after her death (aged 31, by suicide, announced as acute appendicitis) in a dream, Stalin still tyrannises and ultimately repudiates her.
Kate Isitt's Nadezhda captures both the bewildered innocence of "before" and the terminal despair of "after"; Paul Arlington keeps himself at some distance from Josif's lines, narrowing the range of his performance but strengthening (perhaps) the impression that every word and move are calculated. A firm production of a play which throws an engrossing sidelight upon the dictator.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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