State of Revolution - Lyttelton

The Times; London; May 28, 1977; Irving Wardle;

Nothing definite to say
You cannot, as Robert Bolt pointed out to Sheridan Morley (The Times, May 25), launch into a play on the Russian Revolution with: "Scene One: Morning Lenin, where's Trotsky?" But I am not sure that Mr Bolt has much improved on that by framing revolutionary flashbacks within an address by Lunacharsky to a Young Communist rally on the anniversary of Lenin's death. It supplies a structure, certainly; but one which simultaneously casts the speaker (evidently intended as the most sympathetic of the founding commissars) as a hypocrite and strains credulity to breaking point...

...the piece reaches its climax with Stalin delivering his triumphant speech to the Thirteenth Congress (crammed with cunning debating points he has filched from Trotsky), which comes as the death blow to Lenin in the background.

It is a powerful melodramatic conclusion, for which the play paves the way with scenes where immediate business is underlaid with suspicious vigilance for the emergence of a counter-revolutionary Bonaparte, and incessant rancorous sniping between the brilliantly over-confident Trotsky (Michael Kitchen) and the slow-moving, banal, underdog who finally supplants him. As the evening progresses, Terence Rigby's Stalin seems to be visibly swelling. Inhuman like in appearance and voice, he comes on like a grotesquely misshapen puppet in long overcoat and patent leather hair, supporting his leader with wooden single-hand claps, and pursuing ambition and personal vendetta in a style of rigorous anonymity and obedience to party discipline. It is a performance of nightmare clarity...

Starting with a prelude at Gorki's Capri academy, the production runs through the highlights from 1917 to the Civil War: Lenin arrives at the Finland Station in a puff of smoke, Trotsky negotiates with the affably merciless Germans, Lenin meets his would-be assassin, the Konstadt rebellion yields a vigorous shoot-out...

Throughout, despite the speed of the action and the rapid scenic transformations of Christopher Monahan's production, one is mainly conscious of the sheer weight the piece has to carry. For every event that appears, one is aware of how many have been omitted: a feeling that would not arise in a piece fired with something definite to say...

Many thanks to Deb for digging out this review.