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Submitted by MBergeron on January 6, 2024 – 9:14 amNo Comment

“Killing my enemies is easy. The challenge is to change the way they think, to control their minds. And I think I controlled yours pretty well. In years to come, I’ll be able to say: Bulgakov? Yeah, we even trained him. He gave up. He saw the light. We broke him, we can break anybody. It’s man versus monster, Mikhail. And the monster always wins.”

The dialogue comes from Stalin (Simon Russell Beale, also in My Week With Marilyn) and refers to the dissident playwright Bulgakov (Alex Jennings, who played Prince Charles in The Queen). Collaborators, written by John Hodge (Trainspotting) pits Stalin and Bulgarov in a cat and mouse psychological showdown. Bulgarov must write a play commemorating Stalin in order to lift the ban on his writings, and most importantly the reinstatement of his play about Moliere, which’s been censored by the state.

Collaborators comes to the Sundance Cinemas Houston as part of the National Theatre of London season of plays presented live in a stunning digital presentation.

From the Sundance press release. “Collaborators plays at 12:30 pm., Saturday, January 7 and kicks off a series that includes:

“Traveling Light from playwright Nicholas Wright (The Last of the Duchess), a heartwarming, funny and fascinating tribute to the Eastern European immigrants who became major players in Hollywood’s golden age of cinema, starring the award-winning actor Antony Sher. Presented on February 13 at 7 pm and February 18 at 12.30 pm.

“The Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare’s great bawdy, physical comedies.  Presented on March 17 at 12.30 pm and March 19 at 12:30 pm.

“She Stoops To Conquer, which updates the classic restoration comedy with stunning period sets and costumes, along with some of the funniest lines and characters in English literature. Presented on April 7 at 12.30 pm and April 9 at 7 pm.”

Collaborators begins with various interactions of people living in Russia in 1938. It’s the dawn of the Stalinist purge and the world is divided between people living five to an apartment and secret police and politicians with access to cars, medicine and unlimited vodka. There’s plenty of pravda in the ideas that Collaborators floats. The secret police was liable to eat its own in order to retain their totalitarian rule. People did dream of escaping over the ice to Helsinki rather than being expelled across the ice to Siberia. Moliere actually did die during a production of The Imaginary Invalid, just as portrayed in Bulgakov’s play within the play.

There are no easy choices for Bulgakov yet sometimes the hard reality of the ideas takes a surreal and even comic tone under the direction of Nicolas Hytner (The Madness of King George). In particular the live presentation features multiple camera angles and the stage (the actors are surrounded by the audience) gives way to everything from a meager proletariat’s dwelling to a despot’s hideaway under the Kremlin. Mark Addy (The Full Monty) also effectively stars as an agent of the state.

You could say that Collaborators is an important play and will even be made into a prestigious motion picture somewhere down the line. What Hodge has done is no less than to create an archetypal historical play. Collaborators constantly spirals through an oppressed society and along the way you meet everyone on every rung of the socialist ladder.

- Michael Bergeron

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