Dying For It

26 Nov

To live, it is said, we must have a purpose. And so, it follows, we must die for one. Sort of.

In Dying For It, adapted by Moira Buffini from the original play by Nikolai Erdman,  Semyon is contemplating suicide. Virtually no-one tries to save him. Instead, they try to co-opt him into dying for their own chosen cause.  

In 1920’s Russia, the idea of living for a purpose was in the zeitgeist, and not just on a pop culture level, but as a government directive. You will live for the People’s State. It is this, I suspect, that drove Erdman to write the play. And then earned him time in Siberia.

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

It’s an interesting play to choose now. How many of us feel a pressure to live for a cause? Our sad experience, if anything, (and if I can borrow a phrase) is the unbearable lightness of being. The only serious attempt to suggest we live for a purpose comes from the infantile world of advertising. 

So why the popularity of the play? After all, Buffini is not the only modern writer to adapt it. Simon Stone was at it only a few years ago.

Well, it’s certainly funny. And director Peter Talmacs makes this clever farce come alive. Johann Walraven does a brilliant job as the bewildered Semyon, and the entire cast shine with the exuberance that makes this a truly fun night. (And Tom Bannerman’s set deserves a mention. Imposing and appropriately ramshackle, it evokes the claustrophobia of the human spirit oppressed.)

Perhaps the play’s attraction is the contemporary spectre of terrorism; the tragedy, and horror, of dying for a cause when it might have been better lived for.

But there’s also the end of the play.

Stone’s take, I recall, was rather different. Semyon was left in his coffin, inadvertently forced to play dead when he was not – a poignant symbol.

The conclusion of this version is even more powerful. A killer punch. Sure, it may be an ill-judged hope that any ideology could encapsulate the wildness of Life, but this final scene is a reminder that this failure does not give us leave to run from Life.

For we are not in it alone.

It is the true People’s State.

Veronica Kaye

Dying For It

adapted by Moira Buffini, from the original play by Nikolai Erdman

New Theatre til 21 Dec


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