How well do you know Soviet-era Russian plays? Following her reinvention of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Flight, Ukrainian-born Gamayun Theatre founder Asya Sosis directs a new reimagining of rarely-seen Soviet political satire Dragon. She told us more about its significance. Time to get booking!
A brave knight in shining armour, a few trusty sidekicks, and a little magic? When a young hero begins his quest to kill an evil dragon, he is unexpectedly greeted with hostility by the very people he is trying to liberate. He soon discovers it isn’t enough to slay the dragon he must also destroy its grip on the townspeople’s souls.
Written during the Second World War by celebrated Russian playwright Eugene (Evgeny) Schwartz, this reimagining of the 1944 political satire is a timely interrogation of our own complicity in tyrannical rule.
Talking to… Asya Sosis
Asya Sosis, who hails from Donetsk, Ukraine, is the founder of British-Ukrainian company Gamayun Theatre. She directs this new reimagining of Eugene Schwartz‘s Dragon. Her other recent stage credits have included The Crucible and Flight.
What brought you to the UK?
I came to the UK to study film directing. At the time, I was in love with the Harry Potter books and wanted to have a higher education in England.
Why did you found Gamayun Theatre?
When I decided to dedicate myself to directing theatre, I wanted to create a kind of theatre that would blend the traditions of my country with the culture in the UK. At the same time, I wanted to highlight the history of storytelling that is at the core of our impulse to experience theatre. So, I chose the Gamayun bird, a mythical Slavic bird with a head of a woman, she knows everything that is and well be.
Has Dragon been staged in the UK before?
Yes, it has been staged in the UK, before but there’s a tendency to take the political aspect of the play and amp it up. This production will focus less on the immediate relevance of the news today, instead exploring the subject of dictatorship from the perspective of what it says about human nature in general.
How did you come across the play?
My first introduction to it was when I was younger, watching Soviet films, one of which was based on the play, and called Kill the Dragon. It was one of the later films by Mark Zakharov, Artistic Director of Moscow’s Lenkom Theatre, where some of the most talented and most prominent Soviet actors performed brilliantly in a dark imagining of the play.
The play itself has an ending that is open to interpretation; every director has the choice to be optimistic or pessimistic. Zakharov was a pessimist. In his version, Lancelot kills the dragon but becomes just like him in the end. That had really stuck with me. Last winter when I was searching for something to read on the plane, I downloaded a volume of Eugene Schwartz’s plays onto my iPad. I read the original Dragon script and immediately fell in love with the story again. I felt this was exactly the kind of story that needs to be told today.
Why is now a good time to stage Dragon?
It is always a good time to stage a play that so deeply and intricately delves into the very nature of tyranny. It fleshes out and brings to the surface the sins of both the individual and society as a group that lead them to become enslaved. It reminds us to be aware that our freedoms are not a given and human suffering is near-constant. There’s a tendency these days to hate humanity and to think we’re beyond saving. I want to say with my show, and I’m convinced that the author wanted to say this too, that humanity, despite its flaws, is worth fighting and caring for.
Which other Soviet plays would you like to revive?
This is indeed a play from Soviet Russia, but it is surprisingly anti-Soviet. The authors I most admire from that era rarely had anything published until years after their death. I’ve already done Mikhail Bulgakov’s Flight, but my dream is to put on his The Master and Margarita. It’s a story about Satan visiting Soviet Russia and the love between a genius writer whose books cannot be read in the regime he lives under, and his loyal woman, Margarita, who, in order to save him, turns into a witch.
Tell us about your cast.
We’re very lucky to have such a talented ensemble. We’re just a few days into rehearsals, but myself and the movement director are completely in love with them. We have ten different, energetic, creative people, who are all co-creating this show with us and bringing their individuality into the mix. I am humbled by their talent and eagerness to invest themselves so fully into our show.
And what about your creative team?
They are mostly Ukrainian, I even brought movement director Maria Miasnikova here from Kyiv. She has a wonderful approach to staging dance scenes with actors, where she will observe their natural movements and then derive a dance from them, or even have them co-create the dance with her through improv exercises.
Nadiya Pylypenko is our set and costume designer, incredibly artistic and brings a great vision of her own into our work, creating a grotesque fairy-tale world. Olesya Stefannyk, our sound designer, is a person of impeccable taste, she can feel my vision of the show and improve it, I have worked with her on a show in Kyiv, The Crucible, and then and now she always knows how to add to the action on the scene, deepen the feeling of it.
Irina Gordejeva is our costume maker, and she is an incredibly passionate person, who is one of the most hard-working people I met. She knows her art and she has a great eye for detail. Holly Ellis, our lighting designer, is the only British person on the creative team, but no less important. Her job is to set the tone and the atmosphere of the show, and she can do that not only with warmth and cold, but with her great use of colour of the light.
In a nutshell, why should we see Dragon?
Dragon is a show born through love. Love for theatre, for great literature, for actors and creatives, and, of course, love and respect for the audience. We want to bring something to you that will inspire you, that will take you on a journey with Lancelot, that will reach out and touch your soul, and that will grip your heart and not let go for several days. We want to share this amazing, funny, dark story about how there once was a dragon, who ruled over a town for 400 years, and its people let him.
What’s next for Gamayun?
Aside from theatre, Gamayun is also an acting studio, and we’ve just done our acting workshop with our Ukrainian coach. We plan on running more short courses starting from February, as well as a summer school in the Eastern European style of acting. Also, for the summer we’re planning another collaboration between Ukrainian and British theatre for a rather well-known play, but this project is still in its nascency.