Maydays, The Other Place, Stratford, Sept 27 – Oct 20.
Wow. This remarkable David Edgar play is a marathon. Coming in at three hours plus (with two intervals), it is highly political, spanning the years from the end of the Second World War to virtually the present day, and the questions it poses are huge.
Do revolutionary utopian movements have to end up with prison camps and purges? Does socialism have the answers? Or do people value order and stability above all else?
And why are some people wedded to the ideas of the Left, while others cleave to the Right? Is it an age thing? Simple tribalism?
If it sounds heavyweight, it is. But Maydays is also entertaining drama.
The ideas are explored through a handful of characters whose stories develop separately in the first two sections, but come together wonderfully and satisfyingly in the third.
One key figure is Martin (Mark Quartley), who rejects his middle class background to be a young leftie firebrand in the 60s. But he can’t commit himself to the revolutionary ideals of others - he knows that those who try to impose their utopian visions on others, end up creating another kind of hell.
As if to reinforce that, one of the other main characters is Pavel (Jay Taylor), a translator in the USSR who falls foul of the regime and ends up in the gulag. Freed in a prisoner exchange, he comes to the west and becomes a powerful advocate of its freedoms.
Fast forward to 1979, and Martin, now a journalist, is sent to interview Pavel. But this is the year of the so-called winter of discontent, with many people – especially on the Right – fearing that Britain is threatened by anarchy. Never has a looming election seemed so critical for the future of the country.
Can Martin, now a full member of the comfortable middle class, stay true to his youthful leftie self? Or will he come full circle and throw his lot in with the Right?
There aren’t many easy answers in this play which was written in the 80s. But the questions it raises are just as relevant now – with politics as polarised as ever - as they were then.
Director Owen Horsley has done a wonderful job, using the flexibility of The Studio Theatre in The Other Place to convey changing times and places – from a 60s’ student flat, to a Soviet labour camp in the 70s, to a 1980s’ gentlemen’s club. And the cast are excellent throughout.
It’s a marathon, but you won’t notice the time passing – and there’ll be plenty to talk about on the way home.
For tickets go to: www.rsc.org.uk
Picture by Richard Lakos (c) RSC