Collaborators – National Theatre – Review

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The sublime Alex Jennings and masterful Simon Russell Beale

The Olivier Award for Best Play went to Collaborators, I’d missed it when it was on at the Cottesloe, but was glad it was being revived on the Olivier stage. I’d heard mixed thoughts on it, one friend saying it was best thing they’d seen at NT for years, another found it dull and boring.

If the play was about a theatre critic rather than a Russian playwright it would go as follows:

Soviet Secret Policeman : Hey Dominic, we’d like you to write a review for Stalin’s 60th birthday as a surprise.

Dominic : I can’t do that he’s an awful man

Soviet Secret Policeman : We’ll kill your wife if you don’t do it.

Dominic : Ok they.

Dominic struggles to write the review – Enter Stalin

Stalin: Ha! Nothing is a surprise to me, tell you what, I’ll write the review and you can run the USSR while I do it.

Dominic : Ok, wow running the USSR is hard work, I never realised the tough decisions you have to make Stalin.

Stalin : Yes, you see what a demanding job being a dictator is, I’m not really that bad, I just have to make tricky decisions.

Dominic : Well I’ll be blowed, I’m now sticking up for Stalin.

Stalin : See you fell into our trap, if I can break you, I can break anyone. Snigger, snigger, snigger.( he says as he pockets Orwell’s 1984)

THE END

To me this play didn’t live up the hype it’s received. Alex Jennings and Simon Russell Beale’s performances are excellent and definitely worth seeing. Bob Crowley’s design is dazzling, especially the beams of red light that emanate from the back of the stage.

However as a play, this left me wanting. I personally thought portraying Stalin as a kind and comedic soft “Uncle Joe”, isn’t really appropriate as we know what a brutal, vicious and psychopathic dictator he really was. It also veered into the ridiculous on occasions, especially the scenes featuring the Doctor, which came straight from a Carry on Film. The play lacked pace to me and just seemed to plod along. I’m not sure what point John Hodge was trying to make writing this play, perhaps he wasn’t writing to make a point, but his characterisation didn’t make up for this in my view.

It certainly is not an awful play, but definitely didn’t live up to the hype, and I’m perplexed as to why it won the Olivier for best play in a year when there was stiff competition in that category. It is worth going to see Alex Jennings performance in particular. However as a piece of writing, without its strong two leading actors it would be more apparent for the dull and questionable play I feel it is.

STARS : * * *

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