Bliss -Finborough Theatre
Written by Fraser Grace, Bliss tells the tragic yet heart-warming tale of a young couple trying to build a life against the odds in the aftermath of civil war. It shows the ruins of 1920s Russia, where ‘victorious’ soldier Nikita returns home battered and worn to his drunken father and to Lyuba, a girl he remembers from before the war. Against a backdrop full of unexploded ordnance and the ghosts of the lost, Nikita and Lyuba must pick their way to some kind of future.
Fraser Grace said, “It’s about a sweet young couple who feel they have survived terrible times - and are ready to start a new life. What they discover is that they are only just beginning to survive; it’s going to take much longer, and require more resilience than they ever thought they had - but they will overcome in the end. Their optimism is not misplaced, just a bit impatient.
It's based on a short story by censored writer Andrey Platonov (1899–1951), who was heavily censored in his lifetime for writing works that focused on hardship and the truth of human experience rather than Stalin’s propaganda. Fraser said, “I first came across the story in a copy of Granta magazine sometime in the noughties. There are real obstacles in making a stage play based on it, so much of it happens in the interior space of the characters’ minds and emotions. I liked the challenge of that. I also liked that it doesn’t shy away from the brutalities of life.
“Platonov left behind a lot of unfinished work. I think he knew what he was writing would bring trouble. Understandably, he found it hard to keep faith in projects when the censor’s knife hovered over his head. Most of what he did complete could not be published - it completely failed to toe the party’s line. Writers were supposed to talk about the coming glories of the new society, not dwell on the human suffering of the present - let alone the indifference of the authorities.”
Fraser chose to set it in its original setting of 1920s Russia because “the fact that Platonov is such an oppositional spirit makes the play incredibly resonant for our time.” He thinks the writer would be much more prolific now if he’d not been censored, but in the modern day “Putin would hate him as much as Stalin did.”
But even though Platonov wrote about hardship and suffered much hardship himself, Fraser finds hope in his writing. “Some of Platonov’s indestructible faith in the resilience of ordinary people. Damaged souls can make good”.
Bliss is presented by Menagerie Theatre Company in association with Neil McPherson for Finborough Theatre 17 May – 11 June