Posts Tagged Stalin

The Death of Stalin (2017)

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Directed by Armando Iannucci

Certificate: 15

Runtime: 106 minutes

These days we often hear of people being dismissed, denounced or criticised as ‘Stalinist’. This has become a term of abuse in the same manner as ‘fascist’ or ‘racist’; a useful cudgel with which the unscrupulous individual can use to beat political opponents about the head.

Armando Iannucci’s new black comedy, The Death of Stalin, offers an insight into the paralysing fear felt by everyone who lived in the Soviet Union under the rule of Josef Stalin and his brutal, sadistic henchman; NKVD spymaster Lavrenti Beria, chillingly played by Simon Russell Beale.

The best example of this gnawing fear is shown by Paddy Considine’s panic stricken Radio Moscow producer who tries to get a recording of a classical concert to Stalin after receiving a phone call from him ‘requesting’ a copy. The problem was that the concert was broadcast live; not recorded.

Stalin, (Adrian McLoughlin) is a vulgar peasant with a penchant for practical jokes and bad cowboy movies. All the other members of the politburo go along with his every whim for fear of ending up on one of Beria’s lists of ‘enemies of the people’. This tension makes for some excruciatingly bleak humour that leaves the viewers on the edge of their seats.

Great characterisations from Steve Buscemi as the calculating schemer, Khrushchev who struggles to stay ahead of Beria and keep himself free and alive; Jeffrey Tambor as Malenkov, the vacillating deputy to Stalin who finds himself in over his head after Stalin’s death and most notably by Jason Isaacs as the brash, no-nonsense war hero, Marshal Georgy Zhukov.

Some critics have questioned the use of humour in depicting this dark time in Russia’s history. Isn’t it in bad taste? Perhaps. Nevertheless it is a work of genius from the master of dark sardonic humour. Iannucci has triumphed again.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Who Killed Pablo Neruda? (A Poet’s Journey)

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Pablo Neruda

Mystery, poetry and the unknown contents of a white bag spark a young woman’s quest into the life, death and writing of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Age category: 12+

Quaker Meeting House, Edinburgh
7 Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh, EH1 2HE

Pablo Neruda was to Chile and the Spanish-speaking world what Robert Burns was to the Scots; a national poet with a strong romantic bent; radical politics and a complicated personal life.

This play introduces the great man’s poetry; albeit (for the most part) in its English translation. This play recounts one young American woman’s search to find out more about the life, the mysterious death and the poetry of the Chilean bard.

Neruda had been the Chilean representative in Madrid at the time of the Spanish civil war. He was friendly with the gay Spanish poet Garcia Lorca.  Lorca’s murder by the Francoists led to his political radicalisation.  He became supporter of the Communist Party and lived a life on the run from the Videla regime in the 1940s.

Neruda was a man of great contradictions; he supported Stalin, he was a womaniser, yet he wrote the most wonderful and tender love poetry. This is brought out clearly in this ‘jukebox’ play.

Neruda made many enemies.  He was in hospital suffering from terminal cancer when the Allende government was overthrown in a military coup by General Pinochet  (with covert CIA help) in September 1973.  Within a few days, Neruda was dead. The claim at the time was that he had suffered a heart attack.

For years it was rumoured that he had been poisoned on Pinochet’s orders by a lethal injection given to him by a doctor in the hospital. The results of an autopsy conducted on the poet’s exhumed remains in 2013 were released in June 2015 suggesting that he was infected with a highly toxic bacterium. It looks like Neruda really was murdered.

This production is an affectionate look at the poet; with his imperfections and his sublime verse. The Syracuse University Department of Drama have produced a real gem; a fine introduction to the great man’s work for newcomers and a great reminder of his greatest hits for those who already know and love it.

Reviewed by David Kerr

Four Stars ****

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