about the production
The Vyatlag production was made at the time when the trials opened in connection with the Bolotnaya “case” (Bolotnaya Square) against protesters discontented with the Putin regime. The production goes back to events 70 years ago. Vyatlag is an abbreviated name of a gulag that was located in the Vyatka district, where Latvian antioviet rebels were being sent. Among them was a private farmer Arturs Strandiņš who was sentenced in 1941 for membership in the organisation of Aizsargi. Strandiņš spent ten years in gulag, throughout which time he wrote diaries on cigarette papers (he was non-smoker and traded tobacco ration for food, but kept the cigarette paper). The scraps of paper contain a record of the entire monotonous life in gulag: work in the woods and loading timber on trains, stay in the gulag infirmary, theft in the barracks, brief conversations with fellow inmates, lots of details about diet and bread rations, notes about the passing of friends, relatives and other inmates, records of memories of a woman now distant. Strandiņš notes reflect the life and mentality destroyed by the Soviet regime across the territory where it established itself. The mindset was typical for pragmatic, economically-oriented approach, common sense, connectedness with earth, and innate respect for national traditions. As his diaries show, Strandiņš often reminisced about daily work in the fields and folk fests, discussing farming practicalities with his fellow inmates.
Strandiņš diaries were published in 2000 in two hundred copies by a small academic publisher. Director and performer Boris Pavlovich was given them by a professor from the university. As he did not know what to do with them, he shelved them. When, in 2014, the inappropriate repressions were un- leashed against members of the opposition and trials opened against protesters, the unfairly accused and sentenced, Pavlovich decided to bring Strandiņš diaries to stage.
In his minimalistic production Pavlovich revives one year of Strandiņš records. A non-descript table, two chairs and two actors – that is all which is on stage. He is an inconspicuous bespectacled man in white rubashka – reading the texts; she is seated next to him, stands up at times and breaks the reading with a Latvian song.
The production is free of superfluous effects; attention is drawn to the very text condensed into diary entries, driven by the author’s inner need to leave a report about the events in gulag and his own existence. The matter-of-fact stage mastery creates an emotionally powerful peace. Vyatlag avoids generalisations. It does not attempt to impress audience with grand images of repressions, ghastly statistics, and is free of emotional blackmail. Quite on the contrary, it uses a discreet form to tell a concrete story, initially some- what tedious and ultimately entrancing.
The diary records by Arturs Strandiņš show how the Soviet power used the giant repressive machinery to destroy his life and that of thousands of others. The power of the production lays in the quiet narrative of a life story of an ordinary man and his fellow inmates – many of whom no longer even have names of tombstones. For it is them in particular on whom the destruction left its major imprint.
“It is one of the most precious chronicles from behind the barbed wire. There is just a handful of those worldwide (the best known diaries include those by Anne Frank, the Jewish girl tortured to death in the Nazi concentration camp). The uniqueness of the story lays in the fact that the oversight in Stalinist camps was the toughest and inmates were strictly forbidden to keep any records.
Boris Pavlovich is given a piece of paper and reads it aloud with frightening monotony. Each item in the diary draws us ever deeper into the atmosphere of the hell of the gulag routine, the inhuman fatigue, pitiable piece of bread and ever-present fatal hunger. Winter and diseases. Death, prayer, a capo. Death, death and death again.”
Michail Sazonov, Yopolis, 18. 11. 2013
“As the authors of the production stress, the inner connection between two fates is obvious: that between the present life that occurs in front of our eyes (that of Kovyazin) and the historic one on the pages of the document. They are drawn close not merely by geography (one man, being unjustly sentenced, arrived in Vyatka, the other one left Vyatka), but also by the overall sense of confusion of an intelligent person about the absurd repressive machinery. Yet there is a decisive difference: the story of Leonid Kovyazin unfolds virtually in front of our eyes and we still can do something to help him.”
Vitaliy Makarov, Vyatskaya osobaya gazeta, 13. 06. 2013
“All parts of 1942 are being read – from 1 January to 31 December. Pavlovich stressed that no day has been abridged or cut. An hour – a year in life. Parsimonious notes without emphasising suffering. Immutable events, as if followed by someone impassively. Somebody died and the date, who fell ill in the infirmary, how many grams of bread were distributed. It sometimes resembles a balance sheet. Not a word about the reasons for the arrest and politics, as if they were intentionally removed in front of the brackets. The inner simplicity and modest acceptance of fate make it utterly frightening.”
Tatiana Boyeva, Novaya gazeta, 31.05.2013
directed by Boris Pavlovich
reading: Boris Pavlovich, Yevgeniya Tarasova
Boris Dmitrievich Pavlovich (1980) graduated from the Faculty of Theatre Science at the Saint Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy, specialising in theatre and theatre criticism. He also completed acting and directing course at the Faculty of Drama Arts. His productions were staged in the theatres in St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Saratov and elsewhere. He is author of theatre plays and winner of the St. Petersburg young playwright’s competition. In 2003 – 2005 he was director at the Pushkin State Theatre Centre in St. Petersburg. Since 2006 he was artistic director of the Kirov State Theatre at Spasska. Currently he works for the Georgi Alexandrovich Tovstonogov Great Drama Theatre in St. Petersburg. His production The Notebook by Agota Kristof (The Spassky Theatre, Kirov) was nominated for the 2008/2009 Golden Masque award for Best production and Best Director.
Video of the production: yes
Script of the production: SK
If you are interested in these materials, write to email@example.com