On 14 September, an intimate audience were witness to the baby steps of Chris Jury’s Nadya at the Park Theatre. The Production Exchange was presenting a Rehearsed Reading; thus, the cast sat lining the back of the stage- nestled amongst piles of white wooden books in their own clothes, scripts in hand. The atmosphere of the auditorium buzzed with exclusivity; I can’t help but think I have been lucky enough to glimpse the first stages of what will become a truly brilliant play.
Nadya begins at the point of Stalin’s full consolidation of power in the Communist Party. What ensues is a dramatized narrative of Stalin’s drive for rapid industrialisation under the ‘5 Year Plans’ accompanied by forced collectivisation, the reality of which was essentially a ‘civil war’ on the peasants precipitating famines and death counts of gargantuan proportions
However, Jury not only focuses on Stalin’s political history, but the personal. Stalin was 39 when he married the 16 year old Nadya, who had been drawn to the budding Georgian tyrant’s revolutionary zeal and law-breaking charm. However, we meet the couple in 1929: it is clear that Nadya has been cheated into a life of domestic passivity. Her solution is to enrol in the newly established Industrial academy where three students inform her of Stalin’s man-made famines and Nadya tries in vain to expose her husband: her fate tragically aligns with many of those under Stalin’s Terror.
Nadya would make Stalin turn in his grave; it could never have existed in the USSR. Jury depicts Stalin as an object of undiluted evil, a callous despot over both his wife and Russia. It is clear that Jury was careful to make sure not a seed of sympathy for Stalin was allowed to grow, which fits into the larger polarisation between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ characters in the play.
As a result, Nadya seemed to assume the qualities of a morality tale, or something from Russian fairy tales. It may indeed be no accident that the grandmotherly narrator Baba, shares the name of Baba Yaga– a witchlike figure from Slavic folklore. So how far are we supposed to trust this all-seeing and seemingly unassuming narrator; should we put faith in her to be factually accurate, or should she function only to tell a good story? A strange and fascinating paradox is met where the nature of the play feels at once entirely fantastical yet acutely real.
The character of Nadya taps into current historiographical and hopefully artistic, trends: the female voice in history is finally receiving its long awaited audience. While the historical evidence for Nadya as a naïve but brave Russian hero is questionable, the message of the dangers of apathy seems to ring true in our current political climate. The structure of the play is book-ended by Nadya’s suicide- it starts with the end so to speak. This carries the suggestion that history is not linear but cyclical- life begins and ends, history repeats. It comes at an interesting time, as Britain is swept up into left-wing Corbyn mania…
It is not all hard hitting politics though: Nadya is also a comedy, fusing frequent crude ‘down the pub’ profanities with what I can only assume were original jokes from the USSR. The comedy is a necessary relief from the dark subject matter and creates a sense of balance.
Even in its infancy, Nadya was a brilliant piece of theatre. Perhaps my interest in Russian history has allowed my subjectivity to get the better of me, blind-sighting me to the more didactic moments of the script which may be a little dull for those who always hated the history classroom… But I am sure the heavy contextualising will be streamlined in due course. This is certainly a play to be excited about.
Nadya had its first public reading at the Park Theatre on 14 September. For more information, see The Production Exchange website.