John Hodge, author of Collaborators, talks about how he created the character of Stalin. John is best known for his work as a screenwriter. His work includes Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.
The ancient city of Kiev is situated high above a river, on a hilly mound riddled with catacombs and crowned with onion-domed churches which celebrate its role as the cradle of Orthodoxy in Russia, when at the end of the 10th century Prince Vladimir converted to Christianity and compelled the citizens to follow suit. The capital city of Ukraine, it was also one of the major cities of the Russian Empire before the 20th century, and many of its wealthier citizens were Russians.
Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) was the oldest son of a liberal Professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. In the play, The White Guard, the seven Bulgakov children become the three Turbins: Alexei, Elena and Nikolai
By the early 1920s, when Ukraine had been finally incorporated into the Soviet state, Bulgakov’s family was scattered; his mother died in 1922 (his father had died earlier), and his two younger brothers had fled into exile with the remnants of the White Army, eventually ending up, like so many of their compatriots, in Paris. Bulgakov, who heard no news of them for three years, never saw them again. Emigration was an option he himself nearly pursued in 1921, but in the end he decided to stay in Russia and move to Moscow, abandoning his former career as a doctor to try to establish himself as a writer. Why didn’t he leave? Perhaps because the reconstruction programme announced by Lenin in 1921 (the New Economic Policy or NEP) seemed to betoken that the worst was over, and that peace would genuinely replace the years of violence. And, of course, a Russian writer needs a Russian readership for his works.
in a journal during 1924-25, before it had even reached its conclusion.
It was as though there was a box, and in between the lines of writing I could see that the lights were on and those same small figures who were described in the novel were moving around there. […] Do I enjoy this? Exceedingly. And so I wrote: scene one. I can see the evening, and the lamp burning. The fringe on the lampshade. The music on the piano is open. They’re playing Gounod’s Faust. […] I spent three nights playing around with the first scene, and towards the end of the third night I understood that I was writing a play.
from Bulgakov’s Black Snow
a new play by John Hodge
Moscow, 1938. A dangerous place to have a sense of humour; even more so a sense of freedom. Mikhail Bulgakov, living among dissidents, stalked by secret police, has both. And then he’s offered a poisoned chalice: a commission to write a play about Stalin to celebrate his sixtieth birthday.
Inspired by historical fact, Collaborators embarks on a surreal journey into the fevered imagination of the writer as he loses himself in a macabre and disturbingly funny relationship with the omnipotent subject of his drama.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner, Alex Jennings plays Bulgakov and Simon Russell Beale, Stalin.