FLIGHTVakhtangov Theatre, Moscow
Участник программы «Russian Case» Фестиваля 2016 года
Director: Yury Butusov
Set designer: Alexander Shishkin
Mikhail Bulgakov’s play tells about the tragedy of the Russian emigration, the tragedy of a man fading into a non-entity after he flees from his fate, motherland and history. Yury Butusov’s production of the play that is set in the 1920s is done at the beginning of the 21st century by a director who endows this production with everything he knows about Russian history. He describes the tragedy of those who left the country and the tragedy of those who stayed on. The life of both is sheer hell from which one can only escape through hallucinations and restless traumatic dreams. The genre of the production is defined as “a show in nine dreams”. Dreams of the characters are full of excruciating sensuality - a fragile ballerina walks like a robot as if she is turned inside out; blurred images of Istanbul mosques look like huge moons-locators flitting in the warm air of a hostile city at night. Life has no mercy on people – the former brave general Charnota has turned into a malicious clown begging for alms, and the army commander Khludov is fully crushed, suffering from acquired diseases and tormented by guilt for the death of his soldiers.
Butusov is creating in the FLIGHT a morbid and unstable world of the “Russian troubled years”, yet at the same time fleeing any political allusions, contrary to all expectations of spectators. The polarization of society and the madness of everything happening is perceived here as inner vibrations, “earthquake shocks” of the show, although with a high vibration amplitude. They make themselves felt, inter alia, in the “hysterical” Butusov’s dance which flopped over from Satirikon’s SEAGULL to other productions, to others – in place of the director himself in Vakhtangov Theatre FLIGHT, Khludov feverishly and desperately strikes the beat with his legs, and Charnota resembles a front man having lost his rock-band. He is alone to string himself up in front of the microphone, on a completely empty, dark stage.
FLIGHT on the stage of Vakhtangov theatre from scene one comes crashing down on the spectator with measured rhythmical blows, making the audience floor shake. The air vibrates with sounds where the whisper of the wind mixes in with the sounds of a snowstorm, a glib chansonnette resonates with a Russian folk “chastushka”, and reading-singing poetry – with a conversation where excruciating accusations of a devoted woman are echoed by a musical phrase.
The sublime stage designer Alexander Shishkin has placed at the front of the stage, in front of the fire curtain, a ghostly whistle-stop on the boarder. An iron curtain (and at the same time the wall of the locomotive) is about to separate Russia from the rest of the world. Behind the curtain we find remote foreign lands with cold alien moons shining over them. People dressed in costumes of the Civil war times pack their belongings into a huge plastic bag, so typical of shuttle-traders in the times of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The characters sing out their nostalgia, which is stronger and higher than the instinct of self-preservation, in Brodsky’s lines:
To come to the Motherland in a carriage,
To come to the Motherland in despair,
To come to the Motherland for death,
To die in the Motherland with passion.
Mikhail Bulgakov specified the genre of the play as “eight dreams” and used Zhukovskiy’s lines in the epigraph: “Have peace, he, who finished his flight”. It is the dreams that Yuriy Butusov stages, but not tranquil, peaceful ones (Soviet authorities were right in detecting hidden sympathy to white emigrants in Bulgakov’s play, so FLIGHT was prohibited soon after being written and was published only in the Khrushchev Thaw years), but frightening, painful, wicked. Seraphina Kozukhina, fleeing to the Crimea from St.Petersburg, suffers from fever and thirst in the very first scene. Ekaterina Kramzina, sitting downstage, shakes in a building-up feverish jolt, and people-ghosts keep bringing and bringing her plastic glasses with water, which she cannot hold on to, all that to unbearable clanging sounds mixed into a song by Pink Floyd. Korzukhina has a whitened face and pointed drawn eye-brows, as if she were stolen from some long-forgotten clown performance.
The exposure of the play is crumpled and destroyed, and it is not a mistake, but Yuriy Butusov’s principle. All eight dreams turn into plastic glasses in his hands. The director is feverish – and he not only spills what is brought to him, but he also spatters and scatters it, rumples the fragile vessels and throws them around. Butusov listens to irrational impulses, he makes blistering raids on the subconscious of the spectator and sometimes makes tactical victories: the audience falls into a trance…