(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/28.)
Other plays – notably Tom Stoppard’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – have been written about the cruel absurdity by which the Soviet system subjected political dissidents to psychiatric imprisonment. Eve Leigh, in her first full-length play, gives the situation a new twist by showing how the need for stories subverts the relationship between interrogator and prisoner.
Because Leigh’s play is based on an incident in the life of activist Vladimir Bukovksy, one has to accept its plausibility. What we see is a captive writer, Gavriil, given access to a prison library of books that are forbidden to the inquisitive Yurchak, who is in charge of breaking down his resistance to Soviet authority. Gradually, Yurchak’s desire to explore Gavriil’s personal narrative turns into a hunger to know the stories of such famously banned literature as Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Yevgeny Schwartz’s The Dragon. It’s a situation fraught with paradox, which Leigh examines with some subtlety, as Yurchak’s attachment to the forbidden is matched by Gavriil’s reluctant complicity with a despised political system.