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Russia: Re-Imagining the Myth

British playwright Tomas Hirst writes about The 17, a new play that he is developing about the end of Boris Yeltsin’s Presidency.

[jbox color=”blue”]This is a guest post from Tomas Hirst, a British playwright. Here, he writes about The 17, a new play that he is developing about the end of Boris Yeltsin’s Presidency. [/jbox]

The concept behind The 17 was actually a fairly simple one. In my time as a journalist I’ve come across many people with a passion for Russia but a great many others who still view the country with a degree of fear and suspicion.

You don’t have to look far to see why. From polonium poisoning, to spy scandals, to jailed oligarchs there have been plenty of juicy stories for the media to feed off in recent years. The problem is that although the numbers of foreign tourists visiting Russia continues to grow this narrative has tended to overwhelm more nuanced discussions of the country.

With The 17 I aim to engage with both those with a keen interest in Russia and also people who take a more sceptical view. Set in the late 1990s, as Boris Yeltsin clung desperately to power, the project aims to tackle conflicting visions of Russia both as it was and as it is.

Based on contemporary accounts the play offers a view into the unfulfilled promises of the social and political upheavals of the 90s and the impact of these events to our broader understanding of present-day Russia. I also hope to draw parallels between the rise of nationalist youth movements in Russia and other more recent outbreaks of student protests across Europe.

Using a series of blogs, photo galleries, interviews and the text itself as a starting point the project aims to launch discussion across a variety of topics. Critique of every aspect is positively encouraged.

To my mind, theatre affords us a way in which to directly use public feedback to shape the production and, hopefully, the response from audiences. It also allows us to continue to evolve even after the project has been launched so that the level of interaction is actually increased with each performance.

The more people choose to be involved the more representative the discussion can become. For a country so frequently mythologised in the popular consciousness this format seems a useful tool for expanding on ideas, challenging preconceptions and encouraging scrutiny of my own work.

While I do not believe that any single piece of work will fully redress the balance of current prevalent perceptions with enough support it can perhaps go some small way towards that end.

The title refers to the 17 Russian parliament votes by which Yeltsin was saved from impeachment. Would you have been one of the 17?

[jbox color=”blue”]You can find out more about The 17 by visiting the play’s website. You can follow the play’s progress on Twitter, and you can also follow Tomas on Twitter. [/jbox]

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