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Ten Days – at The Space Theatre

At the interval, the stage’s back wall displays a series of television news headlines, which I didn’t pay much attention to – it was, after all, the interval. Various people were wanted for various crimes, though what constituted a crime during the 1917 Russian Revolution was debatable, given the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II (Tice Oakfield) and his rule replaced by the Russian Provisional Government, which itself dissolved months after it was formed. In the show proper, the details of who said what to whom, and whether there were gunshots fired, are set out in what is, relative to the usual scale of shows put on at this intimate venue, an ambitious production both in terms of cast (ten actors) – and, fortunately, or unfortunately, running time (three hours).

Ten Days at The Space Theatre
Ten Days at The Space Theatre – image credit Ross Kernahan.

There’s a fair amount of politics involved with the rise to power of ‘the Bolsheviks’, led by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, or as he is better known, Vladimir Lenin (Matthew John Wright) and what this production portrays as a relentless drive (on his part, at least) towards a “second revolution” (the first one, of course, was in 1905, when the revolutionaries were defeated). Miscellaneous policies are proposed by Lenin, some of which are opposed by other members of the ‘central committee’, either on tactical or ideological grounds, or indeed both. Some of the finer details could have been trimmed down, especially as John Reed (Matthew Jameson), an American writer, journalist and communist activist, goes out of his way, as narrator, to emphasise certain points. The cast do a good job, but in the end, meetings are meetings, even ones with the combined charisma of Leon Trotsky (Oyinka Yusuff) and Lenin, and a couple too many are fully staged.

Much of the audience were supplied with red flags, and it was left to them to determine when an appropriate time to wave them was. More active encouragement to clap and cheer, though still subtle, came during political rallies – and this was all very much in the realm of audience engagement rather than audience participation. Oddly, there are elements of more contemporary times that creep into the production, such as lanyards to distinguish one political party from another, and mobile phones (yes, really) being used to take photographs – Lenin uses his at one point to send urgent messages, and I had to resist the urge to laugh too loudly at the idea of revolutionary plans being made via WhatsApp.

With the audience spread out across two sections, one either side of a central performance area that runs the length of the theatre, the show makes excellent use of the space at The Space, including the balcony. There’s a danger, indeed, of an aching neck, at least from my vantage point, as the action ping-pongs between upstairs and downstairs. The scene changes are speedy and slick – tables and chairs almost fly across the auditorium – which adds to the sense of urgency on the part of some revolutionaries. Events do not, strictly speaking, follow entirely in forward chronological order, with the narrative returning to what the show considers ‘day zero’ in the second half, but thankfully there’s no relentless flitting about between different time periods.

To maintain the audience’s interest, the show contains a strong comedy element. Examples include a soldier in the revolution who has been given instructions but is having difficulty carrying them out, and more general chaos in the ranks in the various attempts to actually revolt. The production couldn’t stop itself from putting in topical references – the workers’ revolt in 1917 had, amongst other things, resulted in train cancellations due to industrial action – is the play suggesting that history repeats itself because ‘no-one’ listens? I suppose there’s some hope for those who would prefer the current Government not be returned to power at the next General Election. As for the show, it’s bold, brisk and exhausting to watch, but it’s a rewarding and largely absorbing experience too.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Tear down the last of the old world and smash the rest to bits! Your anger is a gift!
The People are furious and their new government can’t or won’t do anything about it. Over 10 months, a series of flukes, accidents and mistakes steered a newly free Russia from burgeoning democracy to the greatest political experiment of all time.

A crucial ten days of Revolutionary Russia are brought to you in a state-of-the-nation-play having its ten-day run at the Space theatre, populated with a ten-strong cast in a modern adaptation of these crucial historical events.

Assistant Directors – Andy Straw & David Grindley
Dramaturgy – Mike Carter

Matthew Wright – Lenin
Oyinka Yusuff – Trotsky
Deven Modha – Kerensky
Salvatore Scarpa – Antonov/Martov
Maggie Cole – Krupskaya/Kishkin
Clementina Allende Iriarte – Zinoviev/Blagonravov
Tice Oakfield – Tsar Nicholas II/Kamenev
Steven Shawcroft – Koba/Ulyanov
Andy Straw – Prince Lyov/The Bear
Matthew Jameson – John Reed

14 MAR – 25 MAR 2023

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