Theatres Are Scared of Experimenting


What do you think of the current state of contemporary drama in Russia? Are there any identifiable trends?

The state of contemporary drama…I think it’s hard to judge right now. What was the state of poetry in Russia in the 1920s? The poets themselves didn’t know at the time, the assessment came later through critics and literary experts. I’d say that things aren’t so bad. Plays are being written and playwrights are developing. To my mind there are more philosophical-based plays, an attempt to illuminate the meaning of modern life and an attempt to show where it is taking us.


In your view, is contemporary drama able to successfully compete with the traditional, classical Russian repertoire?

No, not at all. Theatres are scared of experimenting. People are always going to go and watch Gogol but they won’t send school trips to see Slava Durnenkov or Oleg Bogaev. It’s not an easy issue for them to tackle because it’s outside their comfort zone. Many theatre directors maintain that after Alexander Vampilov (1937 – 1972) there have been no quality plays written. If you ask them which of the contemporary playwrights they have actually read it turns out they haven’t – they just think there aren’t any good writers. Everything you write, they say, is swearing, filth, rubbish….

But there are some directors, some theatre artistic directors, supporters of contemporary Russian theatre who really do read contemporary plays and put them on. But they are few. The rest are scared. They don’t really get it.

They wanted to close down Vladimir Zuev’s play Mamochki in Penza because some government official from Moscow didn’t like it. The actors put up a real fight and got a working group together. So I’d say there is an interest, young directors are keen to put on contemporary plays and it is happening more. Gogol and Chekhov are great but we don’t need that all the time. Directors understand that too.


Where did the idea for your play come from?

It is hard to explain how you get ideas for plays. You’re walking, wandering round town, listening to your MP3 player, meeting your friends, travelling on the bus or the metro and you have some thought or other running round your head, about the fate of some unknown person who you thought up yourself. Then this person becomes like family to you. That is when you sit down and start to write about him.


How difficult is it for a young playwright to see their play performed?

It’s not difficult, in fact it is delightful. It is so wonderful when your text comes alive on the stage and its real people, actors begin to speak. That is also where you see your mistakes, where it drags a bit and which bits work brilliantly. Many playwrights write their plays to have that experience, to be able to hear their text on stage. It is far better than getting published or anything like that. I guess it is like seeing your own child grow up and achieve their goals in life.


What are you working on at the moment?

Oh, no. I can’t see any reason to talk about it and I don’t want to jinx it. Normally if I tell anyone what I’m writing about then I never finish it. All I’ll say is… I’m working on a play.


What do you think about a festival of contemporary Russian theatre taking place in the UK?

It is really cool that it is happening. What else can I say? If British theatregoers find it interesting then I’m totally for it.


Do you follow the output of British playwrights? Are there any parallels between new British and Russian drama?

I see some similarities between your form of drama and ours – seeking out interesting subjects, looking for the meaning of life and daily living. If we’re talking about European drama as a whole then I’d say English is the closest for me. In Russia at the moment a lot of people are interested in McDonagh. I really like his work too. I’ve seen some brilliant plays of his translated into Russian but the sense you get from them is absolutely Russian even though he is writing about Ireland. It is important that the audience member can watch and say “this is about me”. I like Caryl Churchill as well.

  • 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.

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