Belgrade theatre, Coventry
A dazzling ensemble play dogs and chickens, as well as brutal soldiers and their prisoners, in this account of the horrors of the gulag
Helena Kaut-Howson is one of our most innovative theatre-makers. She has now adapted and directed this Orwellian political allegory by Georgi Vladimov, first published in West Germany in 1975 and translated by Michael Glenny. Giving us a dog’s-eye-view of the Soviet system, it is staged with tremendous physical bravura but fails to sustain the narrative momentum of its gripping first half.
The action is seen from the perspective of Ruslan, a dedicated guard dog conditioned to accept the institutional horrors of Stalin’s gulags. When they are dismantled in 1956, the majority of his fellow canines are shot but Ruslan survives and remains doggedly loyal to his former master. Even when shunted into the care of an ex-prisoner, known as Shabby Man, Ruslan treats him as if he were still a suspected convict. Aware of the old order’s cruelties yet pining for its restoration, Ruslan ultimately pays the price for his fidelity.