“быть или не быть: это – вопрос”
Does anyone recognise this? No? Maybe it’s the Cyrillic… but, yes, it is actually Shakespeare’s famous lines: 'to be or not to be'.
To get up on stage in front of a large audience, act out a part convincingly, and remember lines (frantically learnt) is one thing; performing in another language, let alone in Russian, could be quite another!
Well, Jesse Gardiner, lecturer in Russian Studies in the MLAC department, has decided to do just that. Nikolai Erdman’s ‘The Suicide’ has been selected as the Russian department’s production for performance in the summer term. Jesse started directing Russian plays whilst finishing his PhD at the University of Nottingham, where his research focused on the theatre.
Jesse staged the plays that the students were currently studying, thus allowing them to both improve their Russian language skills and to engage with the set text in a new and exciting way. Not to mention the sense of achievement you have when you manage to get to the end of just one lengthy Russian monologue! It certainly beats writing an essay any day of the week!
Nikolai Erdman’s ‘The Suicide’ was a new play for Jesse to direct, and, despite being seemingly little known amongst Durham University Russian students, The National Theatre will be staging it in London next spring. As Jesse says, this is a good indicator that the play is valued and of interest to the Western world. Given the current climate, this is definitely something positive amidst a not-so-tranquil sea of political tensions.
Jesse, himself, has acted in Chekhov’s 'Three Sisters', but generally prefers to take the director’s role in proceedings.
As an ab initio Russian student myself, I was keen to find out whether Russian beginners noticed major progress with their Russian whilst rehearsing and performing in the language. Jesse said he certainly thought so and really enjoyed seeing students improve. At a previous institution, he cast a first year ab initio Russian student as a main character, Prisypkin, in Mayakovsky’s ‘The Bed Bug’. When the student auditioned, he could barely read the Cyrillic – but, by end of year, he had made great progress with his reading and spoken Russian. He even included many of the lines from the play in his final year oral exam!
We’re really hoping that we have inspired enough people to get involved with the play – it’s not every day that we get an opportunity to perform in a foreign language and, by doing so, gain fantastic insight into the more colloquial aspects of the Russian language.