Written by Fraser Grace (Breakfast with Mugabe, RSC), Bliss is based on a short story by censored writer Andrey Platonov. It’s at Finborough Theatre 17 – May – 11 June, we spoke to director Paul Bourne from Menagerie Theatre Company
What is Bliss about?
Bliss tells the tragic yet heart-warming tale of a young couple trying to build a life against the odds in the aftermath of civil war. It is a love story set in the wreckage of conflict. A story of a literal journey ‘home’, and a metaphorical journey along the River Potudan, where the current of the water flowing under the frozen surface is both powerful and dangerous. The journey brings to life a pertinent story with a modern, powerful and often humorous resonance.
Tell us about the writer Andrey Platonov?
Platonov (1899-1951) was a Soviet Russian writer, philosopher, playwright, and poet, whose works anticipated existentialism. Although Platonov regarded himself as a Communist his principal works remained unpublished in his lifetime because of their sceptical attitude towards Collectivism and other Stalinist policies.
In 1937 he wrote the short story ‘The River Potudan’ upon which Bliss is based.
His works were mostly censored in the Soviet Union until the 1980s because he insisted on focusing on the terrible price people paid every day for their leaders’ grandiose visions. Stalin is reputed to have written “scum” in the margin of one of his stories titled For Future Use, and to have said to Alexander Fadeyev, who would later become Secretary of the Writers’ Union, “Give him a good belting—for future use!” Platonov’s work has just recently been rediscovered by Russia and the west, and an annual festival is now held in his hometown, where Bliss premiered in 2019. Novelist Tatyana Tolstaya commented on Platonov’s canon: “Andrey Platonov is an extraordinary writer, perhaps the most brilliant Russian writer of the twentieth century.”
What attracted you to the story?
We produce work that we believe in and we think audiences would love to be introduced to. All our work is suggested to us by our cohort of writers. We trust their judgement to discover ‘hidden gems’ – and this is one!
It was written a century ago, do you think it still resonates?
The story is from almost a hundred years ago but the play is for now. Platonov’s story has been beautifully re-crafted by one of our top Associates – Fraser Grace – who has given it a modern theatrical treatment which truly speaks to the tragedy and futility of war, along with the spirit of family and power of love. Its themes are reflected in the news we watch and the stories we hear. Themes of confusion, conflict and passion. What it does that the news does not, is to delve deeply into the psychology of the homecoming soldier – from any conflict – to describe the damage he has done, and the damage that has been done to him.
What can audiences expect?
A wonderful and yet tragic love story, poetically realised in a powerful and simple storytelling style.
What’s next for Menagerie?
We are touring to Dublin in June to perform at the Bloomsday Festival with our production of bloominauschwitz – a play by Richard Fredman about the extended life of Leopold Bloom from Joyce’s Ulysses. This will be followed by Hotbed, our annual festival of new writing in Cambridge, featuring new work from across the UK (taking place 15-17 July 2022).
Bliss is at The Finborough Theatre, more information here: finboroughtheatre.co.uk/production/bliss