Ukrainian playwright Mykola Kulish wrote Maklena Grasa in 1933, where it was performed five times and then banned by the government for being inflammatory, lost to the world for decades. Thank goodness Night Train Theatre Company have rediscovered it: this is no museum piece but a funny, dynamic and challenging work with as much to say about the battle between rich and poor then as now.
13-year-old Maklena (Alona Bach) is destitute, with a sick father that cannot work, in a strict class system that exacerbates the divide between rich and poor. Strikes and political upheaval means anything could happen: the economy could soar or crash; people could live or die; and Maklena longs to join the socialist army.
The unpredictability of the writing is what makes every scene so engaging and exciting, interjected with thrilling pieces of movement depicting a communist fantasy, or a drunken collapse. Puppetry (Eden Harbud) and evocative, shadowy lighting (Rory Beaton) bring out the satirical elements of the play, while the luxuriously detailed set and costumes (Nikki Charlesworth) keep us grounded in historical realism. Composer Oliver Vibrans’ rich score and sound design also lift the production to another level again.
The strength of acting talent from the young company of just six is remarkable, though the lack of older actors makes it harder to grasp all the relationships, at times. But this is one of the rare occasions where you see West End quality on the fringe, just ready to burst out onto bigger and better things. It was only performed five times in 1933 and it’s only being performed five times this week. Get to Warren Street before you miss out on this piece of history.
Join Maklena and friends all this week at Camden People’s Theatre.