“Reds” – Auckland show commemorates Russian Revolution

As Russia’s political leaders and oligarchs struggle with how to commemorate the centenary of the 1917 workers’ revolution, Auckland actors and activists will be assembling in Karangahape Road on Guy Fawkes’ Day in November for a show that examines the potential and the end of one of the most significant moments of the 20th century.

Reds is a two-hour play looking at the events and personalities that shook the world a century ago.

It will be given a reading at the Thirsty Dog, on Karangahape Rd, home of Auckland’s world-renowned Bloomsday show.

Top-line actors Robyn Malcolm (Outrageous Fortune), Stuart Devenie (Braindead), Jennifer Ward-Lealand (Dirty Laundry), Elizabeth McRae (Shortland St), Rachel House (Hunt For The Wilderpeople) and Charlie Bleakly (Scarfies) will be joined by former Greens MP Sue Bradford, Unite Union organisers Mike Treen and Joe Carolan, and Mangere East Community Centre director Roger Fowler.

Robyn Malcolm will be playing the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai, one of a remarkable group of women we meet in the course of the show.

Union organisers Mike Treen and Joe Carolan will be playing Bolshevik leaders Trotsky and Lenin.

On piano will be Grey Lynn’s Hershal Herscher who has a special affinity with the show: his mother’s relatives were Bronsteins, Trotsky’s family. He will be playing Prokofiev, Beethoven, Rossini, and—as best he can—Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen (“Midnight In Moscow”) and the entire Russian Red Army Choir (“The International”). And Blondie’s “Dreaming”.

Reds is written by Dean Parker (Came A Hot Friday) and will be at the Thirsty Dog on Karangahape Rd on Sunday November 5, Guy Fawkes’ Day, 2pm.

WRITER’S NOTES

In 1978 Auckland’s Mercury Theatre produced State of Revolution, a play by Robert Bolt, who wrote the screenplays for Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and A Man For All Seasons. It was a play about the Russian Revolution and had been first produced in London the year before, 1977, the 60th anniversary of the Bolshevik rising. It focussed on figures like Lenin and Trotsky

With the centenary of that revolution now upon us, I’ve written my own play, Reds. Its central figures are a pair of anarchists, Alfred Rosmer and Victor Serge, real-life characters who jumped at the chance to go to Russia immediately after the revolution and lend a hand and write about it.

Reds takes in the period from 1920 through to Lenin’s death in 1924. These were years of hope that became years of despair and this is not a play about how the revolution was won, but how it was lost.

Besides Rosmer and Serge, we do meet Lenin and Trotsky but also a remarkable collection of women: Alexandra Kollontai, Clara Zetkin, Sylvia Pankhurst and Nadezhda Krupskaya.

Robert Bolt’s play had a cast of 32. We have a cast of 10. In London his play was done on the vast Lyttelton Theatre, with its auditorium of 900 seats and an orchestra pit that could take 20 musicians. We’re on a tiny stage the size of a postage stamp at the Thirsty Dog, with a piano squeezed in on the side.

In the introduction to his published script Bolt wrote, “When it first occurred to me to attempt this play, I rejected the idea hastily. For one thing the Russian revolution is so fraught with urgent implications for ourselves that it is hard to see it at a dramatic distance…”

That distance has now lengthened by a further four decades during which the Soviet Union has given up the ghost and the likes of the New Zealand Communist Party withered and died. In the same period of course the free market collapsed in a global financial meltdown and Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn popped up condemning the widening gap between rich and poor.

Bolt continued. “… But perhaps for that same reason the idea wouldn’t go away. And then, the event was so terrible and the personalities so strenuous, the endeavour so total and the outcome so tragically far short of what they had intended that merely to think about it steadily is to be overwhelmed by primitive pity and awe. And that, so Aristotle says, is the proper stuff of drama.” Well, exactly

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