Competition for University of Bristol students

In January 2024, Sputnik was invited by Professor Andreas Schönle (University of Bristol) to support the final year Russian Studies assessments. This collaboration was based on Sputnik’s work staging dissident Russian playwriting over almost two decades.

The students were tasked with creating a production proposal for Mikhail Durnenkov’s The War Hasn’t Yet Started – considering Russian theatre traditions, contemporary relevance, target audience and stage design.

Samuel Dix
Alissa Subrovska
Runners up
Niamh Fraser
Rosa Leah Picard
Maddy Wilks

The winning students will receive a copy of a Sputnik publication.


After reading the proposals, Sputnik’s artistic director Noah Birksted-Breen wrote this feedback for the students:

“It was a great pleasure to read your proposals, thank you for sharing them. As many of you pointed out, Durnenkov’s play was indeed written as a response to the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine – most of the play was written in 2014 with a small number of scenes added in 2016. The play captures the feeling of what it is like to live through a war on the home front – in an increasingly militarised Russia. Your proposals engaged with that idea in so many different ways.

I particularly enjoyed that several of you noted how grotesque the drama is – a kind of bleak comedy which relates stylistically to the writings and theatricality of Gogol, Kharms and Meierhold. The use of montage in various forms in several proposals was wonderful – whether through acting style, stage design, use of technology or lighting – the idea of making the production feel contemporary and fresh through established Russian theatrical traditions worked well.

There was an interesting question raised in many proposals about whether to stage this modern Russian play to speak to UK audiences about Russian realities or as a mirror for UK audiences about contemporary British realities (fake news; a divided society; political corruption; etc). There’s no right or wrong answer to that – perhaps even it’s necessary for any production to do some of both. The main point is to humanise the Russian characters, who are to some extent victims of their own reality – as indeed I think you all did.

I loved the proposals which offered a bold production concept – whether by using technology to frame and (at times) swallow up the characters; Soviet puppetry for its grotesque comedic quality; the use of an all-female cast to emphasise a playfulness and performativity in the script; stage designs which proposed a scaffolding-like structure in one proposal and an on-stage bunker in another proposal – to accentuate the dread and paranoia within the play; in addition to many other wonderful ideas.

Essays from the Liberal Arts students engaged well with notions of theatricality in the Russian theatre tradition. I enjoyed how one proposal transposed the setting of The Inspector General to the UK, while retaining the style of Russian psychological realism – a dramatic tradition which combines authenticity with expressiveness (therefore subtly different to ‘British naturalism’ with the latter’s focus on objective social realities). There was also a very creative of set design, technology and biomechanics to imagine a contemporary staging of Boris Godunov – exploring the private/public dynamics of social life. Well done!

I couldn’t bring myself to select only a single winner – given how well you all engaged with the concept and with such variety – so I’ve awarded joint winning position to two proposals which leapt out at me for their creatively daring approaches, but I also wanted to include a ‘special mention’ category to recognise some runners-up. To everyone who didn’t get mentioned, though, I genuinely enjoyed reading every single proposal!”

  • About Us

    Sputnik is a British theatre company dedicated to sourcing, translating and producing new Russian drama for British audiences.

    There are several strands to Sputnik's work including:
    - producing new Russian plays in the UK
    - programming and organising the Russian Theatre Festival in London
    - developing Russian playwriting through commissions and exchanges
    - outreach work bringing drama to disadvantaged young people
    - cultural events with Russian literature and music

    Why Russia?
    Russia has a history of theatrical innovation. Russian playwrights have played a significant role in shaping modern European theatre.

    Contemporary playwriting in Russia has been going through an important and innovative period since 1991 with a prolific output by predominantly young dramatists.

  • Support Theatre Company