01/07/2019, by CLAS

Leningrad! – a play written, directed and performed by students of Russian

Every academic year, students of Russian are lucky enough to get involved with the tradition of the Russian Play, an entirely student-led initiative. Although we agree that Chekhov and Bulgakov must be celebrated, we decided to do something a bit different this year and write our own play from scratch. It was a challenge but we enjoyed the creativity that came with it from everyone involved!

The play is based on the first gig performed by the band Leningrad in Saint Petersburg, 1997. Whilst researching Leningrad’s early days, Sam and I realised that we had actually visited Art Klinika, the venue where the gig took place, during our year abroad. The venue inspired our set design, which incorporated graffiti-covered bar tables and a music-themed backdrop.

In our rendition, Leningrad’s Shnurov and Vdovin perform four songs to music (which was made by a talented friend and former UoN student). To really embrace and exaggerate the 90s theme, we had several sub-plots: diamond smuggling; a Russian woman’s desperate attempts to find a way into Paris through marriage; flogging black market goods; police corruption; a stubborn Soviet woman’s disapproval; and a no-nonsense babushka who resolutely mops up everything from cheap vodka, to blood from gunshot wounds. Shnurov is eventually blamed for destroying the bar’s reputation, but is happy in the knowledge that he is ‘Saviour of Russia’.

The best thing about writing our own play was that we could take inspiration from anything and everything, and develop and tweak the plot over many months. The initial inspiration for the play was my babushka host in Rostov-on-Don, who vocally expressed her hatred of Sergei Shnurov when I brought home a poster advertising a local Shnurov exhibition. However, it didn’t stop there! Observant audience members will have noticed our references to Russian films throughout the play (some subtle, some not), which really helped us develop a storyline. We were also inspired by first-hand insights into late 1990s life in Russia from Lidija’s mother, as well as learning about the Soviet and Russian underground music scene in a final year module, Russian Popular Music.

Thankfully, everything came together in time for our two performances at the end of March. We were amazed at the number of people who turned up, including students, family, staff, teachers from Teremok Russian School (the organisation which received our proceeds), and even some special guests from the Youth Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We were so happy that it was enjoyed by both Russian speakers and non-Russian speakers alike.

A small group of us recently went to Teremok Russian School to attend their Poslednii Zvonok day (a celebration of the students’ and teachers’ achievements over the year). We handed over the £226.60 raised from the play and were invited to get involved in various activities. The teachers were keen to demonstrate to their pupils that university students from Britain and other countries learn Russian too, but for fun!

We enjoyed working with a fantastic cast, which consisted of fellow final year students, some very talented first years, and Russian-speaking students from other departments. We are very proud of the play and are grateful that it could be filmed – it is available to watch in full on YouTube.

Written by Jagger Biggs

Play directed by Jagger Biggs, Sam Boyse and Lidija Melentjeva

Posted in Languages and Area StudiesRussian and Slavonic Studies