VRAG: new play by Ukrainian actor and playwright Ivantiy Novak

July 25, 2022 • Upcoming events • Views: 1225

Interviewed by Anna Morgan
I met Ivantiy in April, at a Barons Court theatre where he was acting in Natalka Vorozhbyt’s play Take the rubbish out, Sasha. That’s where I learned he was working on a play of his own, called Vrag (from the Russian word – enemy). Vrag is about to premiere as part of BiteSize Festival at Riverside Studios (near Hammersmith, London) running from Thursday 28 July to Sunday 31 July (see more details & booking link here).

We met briefly to talk about how this script came to life, what Ivantiy wanted to say with this play and what comes next. Without spoilers – the play is not about the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine.

“I’m not at the frontline, so I have no right writing about it. With this play I wanted to focus on what caused it — how such a thing could be allowed to happen.”

Performance of VRAG: Stalin's New Truth

AM: Can you tell us what the play is about (without revealing too much)? How did the script come to life?

IN: When the full scale war started, I was in India, working on another project. Watching the news across the globe and feeling impotent with regards to finding a response to what was going on, I started writing. I returned to London a few months later, brought the draft script to my creative partner and together we began to brainstorm how to make this play happen. I contacted Phil Willmott, a director I had met and who, after reading the first draft of the script, became interested in working on the show. Then we had months of rehearsals and re-drafts, and here we are – premiering this Thursday at Riverside studios.

The play is set in 1937, where the main character, Rodnoi Ivanovich, a writer (played by me) receives the task of propagating Stalin’s new policy of ‘dekulakization’ (the Soviet campaign of political repressions, including arrests, deportations, and executions of millions of kulaks — prosperous peasants —and their families). The task comes from a ‘late night visitor’ (played by Mohit Mathur) who comes in to explain how truth has to be revised: it must be used to destroy the people whom the state calls enemies.

The story needed to be told in a Faustian way — I’ve always been interested in this notion of ‘selling your soul’. What does it mean today? How does it happen? 

AM: Why do you think people should see this play?

IN: I think this play is for those who are questioning and trying to understand (like I do) – why people follow dictators’ orders, and why this war is happening.

I wanted to explain this through a period I have a connection to. I studied totalitarianism during my degree, and am blessed to have a grandfather who shared many stories in our conversations about the Soviet regime; I’ve also dug around in enough literature about the period to get a grasp, I think. No personal opinion, no private life, no freedom of expression, a rigid enforcement of an ideology: these persist in Russia today, despite the Soviet collapse. And all this works via the destruction of people’s history.

Ukraine is coming back to its roots, despite our history — yet again — being under threat of destruction. And we must preserve it. And Ukrainians will, because that is who we are. Because our people have already paid an inestimable price for it. 

AM: Who are you expecting to come to see the play?

IN: The play is written in English, and aimed at local audiences. But I also hope that Ukrainians will come. I’ve met so many in the past few months. We’re now offering a discount for Ukrainian playwrights and related academics (use the discount code UKR – £6), and a completely free ticket option for displaced Ukrainians fleeing the war (use the discount code – VRAGUKR).

I would also like London-based Russians to see the play. I met a few at Pushkin House, at events and fundraisers for Ukraine, and do believe this show would be of interest. At a recent such event, in which Boris Akunin was interviewed, a thought was voiced: “we need to change the way people in Russia think.” This sort of resonates with my play.

AM: What are the future plans for this play and for you personally?

IN: I’m turning toward writing more than acting. It’s closer to my heart. With respect to Vrag – I’m now in pre-production for a short film adaptation.

***VRAG play runs from Thursday 28 July till Sunday 31 July at Riverside Studios, 101 Queen Caroline St, London W6 9BN.

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