Revolution, said Vergniaud (who knew all about it from personal experience), like Saturn devours its children. If that was true of France in the 18th century, it seems almost more so for Russia in the 20th. The Futurist poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky had a vision of Cubism, Modernism and Internationalism which ultimately proved incompatible with the world in which he lived. So he killed himself.
From this, Andrew Rattenbury has constructed an intensely concentrated short play for just one actor. Mind you, the audience is not there merely to absorb the story and the acting; it is required to reflect the convictions and the bitterness of what is before it. It’s a studio play, but also, I think, a festival one.
Ed Hughes gives Mayakovsky whiplash energy to an almost frightening degree as he tongue-lashes those who cannot – or will not – share his vision. It’s a finely detailed performance of immense intensity, taking his audience in the space of one hour across time, national and cultural boundaries.
Throughout Michael Vale’s direction allows us to sense the manically farcical quality of some of the frenetic cat-and-mouse games played between idealistic young revolutionaries and the Tsarist police before 1917 as well as the gradual realisation that what has changed has not necessarily done so for the better.
This new co-production between Colchester’s Mercury Theatre and Salida Productions is a very different affair to Romeo and Juliet last year. It deserves an afterlife.