Review: Stalin’s Favourite

After a run at the National Theatre, Stalin’s Favourite came to the Ivy Arts Centre on the 29th February. Theatre Unlimited presented its audience with a history lesson in everyday life in Soviet Russia, from the perspective of Konstantin Simonov whose poem Wait for Me became one of the dictator’s favourite pieces, and projected him from exile into the inner circle of Russia’s elite.

The one-man play was adapted from Orlando Figes’ The Whisperers by Rupert Wickham, who also plays Simonov. Portraying a man conflicted by moral realisation, and the whirlwind life he led when discovered by Stalin, Wickham was equal parts despair and pride. Despite a false start, he proved to be an eloquent speaker who engaged with his audience through a depth of contextual understanding and vocal clarity.

Peter Symonds’ direction is straightforward, breaking up the text with lighting changes and music to enhance the atmosphere and give a little theatricality to the monologue. The set is similarly unobtrusive, designed by Michael Folkard, and features the well-worn furnishings of an old man’s home – dusty chandeliers, a winged chair, and a writing desk complete with type-writer. The only piece that places itself outside of the Stanislavskian realism is the large gold medallion featuring Stalin’s profile which hovers above the stage throughout, a permanent reminder of the force behind Simonov’s life.

This play is not, however, one for those looking for excitement and action – at 70minutes with no interval, it takes quite a lot of concentration. Nevertheless, its historical content is informative and personal, providing an emotional account of the regime and the personal clash of ‘duty’ and morality.

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