Англоязычная пресса (English press)

The Moscow Times



Flirting With Controversy

By John Freedman

Volokhov, whose «Lesbians Roaring Like a Tsunami» is playing at the Dom cultural center, has cultivated his reputation not only with plays that flaunt nearly every standing rule of good taste and propriety, but also with occasional outbursts against figures wielding power in the theater world.

«Lesbians Roaring Like a Tsunami» will surprise no one who knows Volokhov’s previous work, although it may shock many who don’t. More than any Russian writer in recent years — and probably in history — Volokhov builds his texts on the dense riches of Russian obscenities. Murderers, cannibals and perverts are the characters who attract his attention.

In «Lesbians,» Volokhov throws everything he’s ever used into the stew. Only this time he made a concerted effort to give his tale the veil of romanticism. Here we encounter two former prostitutes who apparently each wheedled $20 million out of former lovers before killing them and retiring to a South Pacific island to live out their fantasies of sexual and personal freedom. Kami (Marina Runa) is a painter and Emi (Olesya Edelweis) a poet. Chatting rather as one imagines Plato and Socrates to have done, they discuss a range of topics, including the sexual prowess of their dead lovers, the brutality of the doctor who concealed the murders for them, Emi’s loathing for the helicopter pilot who brings them supplies, the nature of Ivan Bunin’s relationship with his women, the rank stupidity of the typical male and their mutual admiration for each other’s sexual organs.

Volokhov’s text, flowering furiously with graphic, yet tender, descriptions of sex and violence, is remarkably poetic and ironic. To a point, it can be funny and liberating as it wreaks havoc on the usual notions of both literary philosophical dialogue and pornography.


Kirill Razlogov, culturologist, host of Cult Kino.

Mikhail Volokhov’s work is certainly a phenomenon that is out of the ordinary.
It belongs to several spheres at once: literature, theatre, cinematography and, as the author himself believes, maybe in the realm of philosophy too.
Working in different spheres shows the range of his talent and his approach to the themes reflected in his work.
At the same time his art is undoubtedly marginal: it counteracts mainstream trends both in popular and elite or ‘high’ culture.
This phenomenon is quite new and characteristic of the 20th and 2Ist centuries.
I think these alternative tendencies that extend an artist’s work outside the bounds drawn by society will gain ground and have even greater significance in the future.
In this sense Volokhov’s experiments with theatre and cinema are sure to receive public recognition.
Chikatilo’s Calvary is one of his central works, with versions for both stage and screen.
His cinematographic experiments border on video art, although cinematography and video are quite different forms of art with their own aesthetic peculiarities.
Maybe it is hard to imagine this being shown on TV, but Volokhov follows the example of reality shows that are suitable for both video- and big-screen format to some extent.
What makes Mikhail Volokhov’s work so interesting and unique is his apparent desire to use different aesthetic traditions with a definite aim in mind, not simply to shock the audience, but rather as a way to broaden our perception of phenomena that just a few years ago would have been totally rejected.
This makes Mikhail Volokhov’s work both interesting and instructive.


Tchikatilo’s Calvary» by Mikhail Volokhov

A    P L A Y    F O R    P E O P L E    W I T H O U T   N E R V E S

Translation from russian by  Rene GUERRA,  mise en scène  Andrei JITINKINE,  decor and costumes  Sergey MALYUTIN,  role of tchikatilo  interpreted by  Danil STRAKHOV.

This independent «Museum Theatre Play» project «The Supreme Penalty of Tchikatilo» is realized by people with a classical theatrical education working at Moscow’s leading academic theatres.

We introduce a ‘classic of the 21st century’ as an avant-garde interpretation of a hyper-realistic contemporary drama.

Programme of performances: MOSCOW: 8 June at the Mayakovsky Theatre

PARIS: 14 June at the Institute INALCO, Paris



It is well known that in the New Testament the term «kayros» determines the Eve of Great Accomplishments, when even the opponents of God’s Will exercise the Prophetic Rights of Disclosing the Infinite Truth and Beauty of the Ecumenical God. Already in the Old Testament God «tortures» the mortal Job «in a beastly, savage way» by «belief alone», and the dispirited Job finds himself «in belief alone» and reconciliation with the Divine World is bestowed upon him. The dispirited Periods and People of Russia in our century have reached the last stage in collapse of the human being i.e. «tchikatilism» is nothing else but the last, most terrible «torture of God», «testing by God» of the spiritual durability of the human beings made in his image. In «Tchikatilo’s Calvary», in the form of a Theatre-Temple, an attempt at recreating the transcendent contents has been carried out both as «Tortures-tests of God», and «Catharsis absolution» from this hellhole in cosmic Kayros for disclosing the Substantial Truth, when the most disastrous truth becomes terribly curative, since it its the most paradoxical. And as a matter of fact, the «only Belief» stays with the human being.



«Dead Man’s Bluff» is a tragicomic history of modern Russian, and also of the western Hamlet. Hamlet’s flute appeared in my play not accidentally, but because the famous Sobel has staged the «Dead Man’s Bluff» in Paris literally as a Shakespearian epic. Moreover he has spent 1.5 million dollars on staging «Dead Man’s Bluff», also as part of a Russian classical trilogy from Chekhov’s «Cherry Orchard» to Babel’s «Marie». «Tchikatilo’s Calvary» is an upside-down history of Russia, a history of «Richard-Stalin the Third» where the characters are choked by their own lust and blood. Volokhov’s avant-gardism is that he is not engaged in diagnosing the evil around us like other modern writers, he simply builds this evil into structures of Global Fatality, absorbed in the western theatre of the absurd but for all that remaining a profound Russian classical writer.



«Tchikatilo’s Calvary» is a vigorous name overcoming the darkness. The whole phenomenon of Volokhov’s play is that by figurative formation it fights with the Evil in reality, but not with words. The play is written on the basis of fact, on absolutely terrifying true material. But the artistic, philosophical and figurative level achieved by the Laughter of Agony overcomes this material which is practically intractable for art. My decor and costume design for the play «Tchikatilo’s Calvary» in the form of a «museum-spectacle» exhibiting a collection of «ancient picturesque scrolls» with events of the apocalypse from the Theologian John’s Revelations and huge sculptures of the Avenging Angel made from wood with fragments of architectural details from ancient iconostases was selected by me to emphasize the basic philosophical idea of Volokhov’s play, our play, and in particular: mankind knows everything, remembers everything, but unfortunately does not become better.



When Andrei Zhitinkin offered me the part of Tchikatilo in Michael Volokhov’s play «Tchikatilo’s Calvary» I was at first taken aback — is it possible that I’m similar to Tchikatilo? But nevertheless I decided to read the play first and then to decide. I laughed and cried when read it. Tchikatilo is a philosophical experimental character; especially because Zhitinkin has made him a modern Richard III. But what amazed me most of all about this play is that it was written by Volokhov in Paris, in 1996, yet it analyzes the Dostoyevskian mentality of a Russian man at the beginning of the 21st century.



Brusilovsky on Mikhail Volokhov’s play ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’

Mikhail Volokhov’s play ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’ is an extremely important philosophical study of the problems posed by our modern world.

Volokhov’s drama has become a serious dramatic exploration of all the harrowing issues that confront mankind today, and in this play Volokhov touches on a serious and extremely important problem – our loss in the modern world of extremely important fundamental human qualities such as tenderness, love, personal relations, friendship and marriage. The modern world is losing values that were an integral part of our culture from time immemorial, losing them forever as the new century brings us increasingly uncompromising modes of existence that hold no place for these fundamental human characteristics.

When I stop to reflect and read the text carefully, in my opinion the two heroines of this play do not represent any particular age group, or even gender. In fact these are human beings that lament and howl at the sense that we are all godforsaken in a world where there is no room for love, in which love is subject to an extraordinary attack from universal evil, universal inflexibility, terrorism, war, moral degradation, drug addiction, etc. etc.

Unfortunately this is a very long list. Consequently the two heroines try throughout the play to embrace this problem of the abandonment of Life in a world that has become empty for them from all angles, as if feeling for an answer.

That is why I say their gender and even their age are immaterial. Actually the heroines could be anyone from adolescents to grown-up women, men or women of an indeterminate age, so to speak. As for their gender, the fact that they are lesbians is not important. Moreover, this is Volokhov’s familiar, habitual game with concepts that seem shocking at first but only indicate the theme. Volokhov delineates a kind of lacuna, an empty place in which, you might say, the story unfolds. Of course the male sex also find themselves in this godforsaken state, except that they lack the deep-seated sensoria, the apparatus to tune into and measure the quality and degree of their downfall into the inhuman abyss of finer human feelings. In this instance women are better suited, although if it is possible to dig deep into their souls, men too may comprehend and feel the same things in the depths of their subconscious.

Throughout the drama the action is an attempt to organize an oasis of feelings, an oasis of resources that are slipping away and vanishing, sucked down a gigantic funnel like sand in an hourglass. We should use this play to help us seize and hold on to disappearing feelings that give life to the biological form of love and human attraction. Any staging of the play must also correspond to the gigantic theme posited by Volokhov. That is, it should be constructed like the greatest sublime tragedies and comparable with Ancient Greek tragedy or the elevated passion of the Japanese theatrical tradition Noh. For this purpose music must also be used. Clearly rhythmical tom-toms should sound offstage. No musical phrases should intersperse with the melancholy wailing of the Japanese samisen or zither. This would create the pulsation of ‘qi’ energy, as the pulsation of nerve endings that prowl throughout the play, creating the aura of these sensoria.

It is also important that the heroines should not touch one another. Any trait that would reduce the play to everyday life will destroy the central idea of Volokhov’s play, smash it to smithereens.

The dialogues must sound like an internal conversation enunciated inside a vacuous balloon. And the heroines should not even talk to one another – in principal they should not even speak these words. Perhaps this is contact between their souls. A kind of therapeutic session. A flow of pulsations between finer feelings almost imperceptible at a verbal level. Consequently there should be no touching. Not to speak of embraces or anything that can be viewed as a preliminary to sex in one way or another. And even stage make-up or any kind of costume will distract us from the theme of the play. There could be two large inflated sexual symbols on the stage – circles compressed at the top, maybe even illuminated (with light bulbs or filaments inside) and the women, who could rock to and fro on swings as they speak their monologues, would climb through these and so on – any number of flexible devices could convey this rich symbolism. Nothing else should be on the stage. Nothing in the way of chairs or table, bicycles or anything else. Clothing worn by the characters should also be minimal, certainly not a bikini of any kind. The costumes should be made of very fine flyaway material that flows around them without hiding anything, and nothing should be tight-fitting. They should simply give the impression of two clouds, nebulous, or rather astral constellations.

The metaphorical basis of the play should be understood in the broadest possible sense, for it is extremely important that the audience focuses on the text from the very first instant, from the first word that is spoken. Here the text is of prime importance. Everything else is the plastic arrangement of this text. And the plastic arrangement should not illustrate the text, but symbolize man’s forced separation from the image and likeness of God. If we were speaking of religion this would be man forsaken by God, the consequence of that separation and indeed the destruction of fundamental human relations. I believe that this play is quite simply a revolutionary disclosure, a breakthrough into the dimension of the soul that usually concerns Volokhov.

The text must be enunciated in a manner unlike any dramatic mode we are used to, outside of illustratively naturalistic forms, and certainly without ‘feeling the part’ or giving the heroines any specific characteristics. This is not required, and the names of the characters, their age and so on should not be of any interest to the audience.

You might think the result would be a rather vacuous production. On the contrary. We will observe with heightened interest the very things that elevate and inspire us.

Text should be spoken very fast in machine-gun bursts that alternate with pauses, seemingly endless pauses.

The heroines do not converse in the usual sense of the word. Everything they do and their contact with one another is the life of the Soul, the pain of the Soul and the wail of the Soul. Loneliness, separation and the inanity of life in this scorched desert of the Soul. All this together should make the play interesting and thrilling.

Familiarity with the drama of Beckett and Ionesco prompts me to say that Volokhov has crossed the threshold of abstract puppetry in the Theatre of the Absurd – Volokhov’s drama belongs to the third millennium. Shutting it away in the archives of the mid-twentieth century is a big mistake – the world has been transformed since then, the human soul and the nature of human relations have undergone colossal cataclysms that destroyed much that was still present when Beckett, Ionesco and many others were writing.

In fact Beckett and Ionesco’s plays are, strange to say, very comfortable pieces written in a robust bourgeois world for a robust and prosperous bourgeois world, where everything is well ordered, where the mechanism of social relations still works and precisely because of that they are quirky, amusing, interesting, etc. But for our unrepentant Russian world their drama is simply child’s play. Through a gesture of penance in his powerful dramas Volokhov has progressed much deeper and further, and his drama should not under any circumstances be styled like the Western Theatre of the Absurd.

With regard to great theatre and great plays of bygone years from dramatists such as Shakespeare, Racine and Boileau, undoubtedly the great dramaturgic journey traversed by mankind in the work of Volokhov exists as a perception of this journey.

Volokhov’s ‘Tchikatilo’s Calvary’ contains echoes of all the masterpieces of world drama from the Greeks to modern times.


The play ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’ continues the tradition of classical decadence. Not the genre to which decadence has been reduced by contemporary Russian writing, but traditional, classical, European decadence. Nobody writes like that now. All modern dramatists are influenced by Chekhov. The influence is subconscious, for they see decadence in his work as a branch of Romantic Symbolism. Because Chekhov himself is like Maeterlinck in translation.

Hard times demand romanticism. Right now the Romantic Symbolism of Maeterlinck’s style is very modern and up-to-date. And Theatre demands such styles as part of its essential and universal traditions. But instead of directors turning to Chekhov once again, they should instead turn to plays such as ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’. And approach them on a conscious level, selecting deep-reaching dramas like this with a virginal purity of genre. Because Chekhov no longer provides ‘up-to-date romanticism’, and accordingly no longer allows the Theatre to perform its sacred, cathartic and purifying function. Time passes and we have to write plays of classical quality taken from real life. Because Chekhov wrote about his own era and however you look at it, Chekhov remains Chekhov. Why is Chekhov still staged? Because there is nothing else.

Now, for the first time, an alternative to Chekhov has appeared – in Volokhov’s play ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’. This is not an alternative because it somehow replaces Chekhov, but a first-class drama instead of second-rate goods.

As compared with his previous plays, here Volokhov rises to the heights, touching upon the mystical, sacral, crystalline-poetic essence of this world, while remaining true to himself as a shocking and Fateful writer.

Romanticism always takes the female gender. Now the Reality of the Human World has moved on to the Zeitgeist of femininity and the female perception of life. The world is tired of the coarse, violent, male dictatorship.

In this Volokhov play we are captivated by two women who express the very essence of life in a way reminiscent of Maeterlinck.

It is not important who acts in this play (men or women), since the characters – global beings – will nevertheless personify the women that ennoble us. This ennobling romantic Maeterlinckian female quality makes Volokhov’s play ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’ an extraordinary phenomenon


Slava Zaitsev on Mikhail Volokhov’s plays (from a TV interview)

-What inspired you to contribute to the design of scandalous playwright Mikhail Volokhov’s avant-garde play ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’?

Slava ZAITSEV. First of all I find Mikhail Volokhov an interesting personality. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with him at the opening of my exhibition. I was intrigued by him and saw that he is a very tactful person, not at all like a scandalous writer. And as I learned later, Volokhov also acts and directs stage productions and films based on his own plays. I really liked his entirely one-man film ‘Tchikatilo’s Calvary’, which was shown at a recent Moscow film festival and caused a sensation at the Nice Festival of Modern Art. After seeing productions in which Volokhov himself took an acting role I became even more interested in his original writing.

Thus my acquaintance with the author and his work motivated me to take part in Volokhov’s new project, ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’. I saw that he is a really extraordinary man who has a quite different way of thinking from most of us. And above all he takes the risk of being misunderstood, despised and humiliated, since he stubbornly insists on the right to his own view of life. Such a unique sense of individuality always attracts me to a person and inspires me with notions of an interesting joint project. When I read his play ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’ I was a little surprised – why ‘roaring like a tsunami’? But later when we began work I was engrossed by the theme, found it even more intriguing. To begin with the text sweeps you off your feet – his frankness and undisguised defenselessness. This is extremely exciting but also a great strain, and you have the desire to create something equally original and new on the given theme. I have never worked on such a production before. Creating the costumes was very difficult because I didn’t know director Mikhail Salov’s initial concept, and he himself is a highly creative man with vacillating and changeable ideas, which is most important. When the director has precise and uncompromising ideas it is usually easy to work together. But this was a very impressionable person with a sensitive disposition and I was deeply interested in every new proposal he made.

It was a pleasure to talk to him, and as a result I could stand up for my own concept of the production. This process took a while, since Salov himself is an excellent actor with a fine understanding of the actor’s craft. Of course I found his individuality remarkable – he is such an exceptional person, not-made-by-human-hands, as they say. He had already staged Mikhail Volokhov’s play ‘Paris Bound’. An absolutely unique performance from Mikhail Salov as both actor and director. In the end the tactful and delicate Misha Volokhov brought our discussions to a satisfactory conclusion, and I think the production was a success. Of course the costumes for ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’ were unusual for me, especially with a deadline looming. But it was wonderful that I had to design and cut everything out myself. What an intoxicating maneuver on the part of Mikhail Volokhov – only introducing me to the director after I had begun making costumes for the play.

When I attended the premiere I roared with laughter. I was sitting next to Irina Khakamada and we were enraptured by the superb text and the acting. To begin with Maria Runa and Olesya Edelveis seemed too reserved, but during rehearsals with Mikhail Salov their inner tension melted away. They are actresses, after all, obliged to perform whatever the dramatist and director of the play have contrived. And undoubtedly the revelations they consequently allowed themselves onstage were staggering. Those two actresses were delightful. Their acting was brilliant. I can say that for sure because I watched the play several times. And then again on the video. I repeat – I was delighted by their acting.

‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’ is a very realistic text yet the atmosphere of the play is very unreal – that bothered me when I was reading it. Such an astral and timeless concept. Although the text is quite frank, nothing is concealed. Many people think and act like the characters in this play but are scared of revealing it to others. Here the naked truth of human nature is exposed. Something of which we are unaware, something we never encountered. But we are implicated nevertheless, if we want to call ourselves human beings. And here Volokhov managed to create the marvelous aura of two very cruel women who are amazingly beautiful, but in that beauty there lurks a hidden demon. The dramatist and director show this with great skill.

A play of penance. These girls, the heroines of the play, open up in one another’s presence with such celestial radiance yet say such ghastly things that the audience is appalled when they begin to imagine the extent of these crimes. Simply horrifying. But the characters recount everything with such ease, probably fearing the burden of truth that weighs down their conscience. They open up in front of the public, before the auditorium. Verily these sinners are repenting on behalf of all of us. For their irony, sarcasm and pathos we feel a terrible pain.

Of course ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’ is a very interesting play. And this production is on the one hand remarkably in tune with the times, but nevertheless demands completely different conditions, demands to be played with a different and more worthy stage set.

I would like to create an image of two cosmic women in bright clothing and incredibly bright bedclothes. When the truth about life is revealed by these splendid women surrounded by fitting stage décor it becomes even more terrifying.

-You said that in the context of world drama this is an innovative play. In what way?

Slava ZAITSEV. Above all the dramaturgy of ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’ makes it an innovatory play. The text is very powerful. There are few authors worldwide who allow themselves to write such honest plays with such concentrated energy and outspoken candor. There are different degrees of truth, it can be veiled or mysterious. In this play the truth is shouted from the rooftops. But I think audiences are not ready to hear most of this. Not mature enough, yet. Many would like to see the action that takes place onstage, but for many it comes as a shock. Those who know Misha Volokhov already have an idea what they will see. They watch the play and listen to the dialogue with pleasure. Young people who came here with their girlfriends were obliged to leave when the girls were put off by words the heroines use. The young men wanted to watch, but the girls were very embarrassed. The audience has to be well prepared and very civilized as regards erudition and perception. It is extremely important that the play is timeless. A cosmic drama.

There is no calumny against Russia in Volokhov’s dramas. On the contrary – they emphasize Russia’s merits as a country capable of global cultural penance for the whole world, performed by her talented sons.

I have read all Mikhail Volokhov’s plays. They really are extraordinarily interesting dramas, proving that highly talented people still live in Russia. Initially you may find the text of Volokhov’s plays and the revelations they contain alarming. We are not used to seeing such words on paper. We use them among friends, when we are irritated or somebody is being especially annoying. I can say any word from the Russian lexicon of non-standard vocabulary. This is typical Russian language, but unfortunately most people are too hypocritical to admit that they use it for everyday conversation. However, careful perusal of Volokhov’s plays reveals that this language is simply a form of expression, while the content is different and more profound. The profane form they take is only used to more fully and precisely depict modern man, who dresses up in fine clothes but is rotten at the core deep inside. You often see well-dressed men or women who suddenly release such a stream of expletives that the air turns blue. Such unexpected and inappropriate behavior is infuriating. But in Volokhov’s plays there is very exact analysis that gets to the root of a question or situation, and brilliantly modeled characters. There’s poetry, too, everything you care to name.

After seeing one of Volokhov’s plays you emerge from the theater not just feeling good, but in excellent spirits! You just watched a superb drama yet feel unnerved because it requires a re-evaluation of your own ideas. The play makes you stop and think, which is very important. You didn’t just watch a show, have a bit of a laugh and walk out the door. No, the play forces you to think about a situation that surrounds us right here and now. All the more because you don’t know the people around you, what is happening to them and to this world in which we must live by the rule of love, according to Volokhov. Well done, Volokhov. I fully support Volokhov.


In the play ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’ Volokhov has achieved a phenomenal dramatic reworking of the plastic arts (of roles, confrontations, conflict, the actors’ movements, etc.) in a lyrical and extreme situation that occupies the narrow space of two female characters. He has written a ‘philosophical pillar of fantastical drama’ on a par with his best tragicomedies.



On M. Volokhov’s play ‘Rublyovka Safari’

‘…Only Volokhov himself has progressed further into the 21st century, to ‘Rublyovka Safari’, and in my view this is very significant. I would say the ‘Moscow-Petushki’ line has been extended (let’s say, Petushki-Vladimir). Firstly, Volokhov’s work is written in a tone that rules out superficial gratification; secondly, these unappetizing plotlines in ‘Rublyovka Safari’ are symbolic rather than naturalistic; and thirdly, they are not the main aim and certainly not an aim in themselves, only the means to reach a goal by the shortest route the author knows (again by turning everything into a ‘carnival’, if you recall). Incidentally, the aim here is not the hallucination that is called ‘catharsis’, but rather the characteristics of our idiotic reality couched in uncompromising, succinct and precise terms (‘Holy shit – let the rest of them fucking croak. And if they can’t croak by themselves they’re asking to be fucking wasted, squashed like parasitic bugs.’; ‘He didn’t screw the important guys in government circles like he was meant to, ended up in the fucking shithole. In Russia you gotta play by the rules, specially if you rob the government of fucking great oilfields three times the size of Europe… I love my country, I’m no dissident, for fuck’s sake, I share it out with the government dudes that make thieving easy work.’) Try putting that another way and you get a term in jail (a journalistic term?). Volokhov presents a precise picture of Russian life by means of multiple, reciprocal fellatio; in his day Yerofeyev achieved the same effect with his hero’s protracted drinking bouts…’

Alexei BITOV

‘Volokhov’s ‘Rublyovka Safari’ is a trail blazer. And this is truly the 21st-century Volokhov. ‘Safari’ is above all hyper-theatrical. In this play everything is transformed into theatre and character: profanity, the diverse substantive exchanges and the subject matter as a whole ‘with victory by the avenging female forces of light not made by human hand’. The richly-drawn and muscular characters are concrete to the very last detail, yet at the same time figurative and mystical. Adrenalin-fuelled metaphors are dotted throughout the play and hence the action becomes life’s sacred wisdom.

In ‘Safari’ Volokhov writes with Gogolesque ease about very complex issues of contemporary life, and the impassable quagmire of ghastly present-day Existence is dissolved and cleansed in the drama’s Play for High Stakes. The hero of this play turns out to be our horror at everyday reality. ‘Safari’ is detailed and specific, but simultaneously a global reaction to everything. It can be staged if the director proves as cyclopean as the play.

‘Rublyovka Safari’ is a highly cynical and bloodthirsty tale reminiscent of Tarantino, but with ‘Shakespearean global amplification of style’ by which, as distinct from Tarantino, Volokhov is able to sketch the ‘love story of all Mankind’ in this drama by virtue of his extraordinary talent. For this reason – the prospective theatre production – it will be Justified by the spectator and by humankind. In the eyes of the audience the actors-performers (if they are exceptional actors) will not lose their Human ‘image’ but actually uncover new facets of dramatic talent in such a production.

The entire play should be hyper-droll and forceful – in that case it will be a Shakespearean global-demotic event, noble as befits the work of Volokhov.

Volokhov’s ‘Rublyovka Safari’ is as globally and theatrically stylish as ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’. In ‘Rublyovka Safari’, too, Volokhov overcomes the ‘tragedy of existence’ with the same impossibly amusing and absurd final narrative COUP DE THEATRE of the entire play (something extremely important in dramatic art). Although the ‘tragedy of life’ plays as much of a leading role in ‘Safari’ as in ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’, as always with Volokhov the tragic element is truly poetic and lyrical due to the theatrically figurative ‘comprehension and interpretation’ of life’s ESSENCE.

How it should be staged is a question of directorial talent (the miracle of art), the director’s ability to present ‘Rublyovka Safari’ (like Volokhov’s other plays) not as an identical copy, but rather to create parallel to the unusual text his own cyclopean dramatic directorial world on the stage, inspired by the Essence and the detail of  ‘Rublyovka Safari’. Then two artistic Worlds interdependent yet distinct from one another will produce a third phenomenon which we could call an innovative directorial production.

In Volokhov’s play  ‘Rublyovka Safari’ the forces of light secure a metaphorical victory although blood flows like water – this is a victory for the talent of dramatist Volokhov over those unsolved questions of modern life to which it is hard to find even an approximate answer after endless sleepless nights of contemplation. Who would think it possible to describe man’s interminable human struggle with himself in a laconic, dramatic, intriguing play that alone could offer correct, decisive answers to these mind-blowing questions. That can achieve Aristotelian catharsis, for fuck’s sake.’


‘Mikhail Volokhov fascinates me because when interviewed one half of what he says is incomprehensible. He speaks in such a culturologically philosophical and complex language with cosmic thematic formulations. Even a top-notch intellectual would be hard put to interpret all his symbols. Volokhov – a living walking Joyce – is here among us. As soon as you open Volokhov’s play the Russian people, with whom he is apparently well acquainted, begin to speak in the language of the street, a language with elements of shocking cruelty, obscenity, thrash and underground. Either he himself hung out with them, or he traveled on the roofs of freight trains and served time with the characters from his play ‘Paris Bound’… I also saw an amazing production of his play ‘Lesbians Roaring Like A Tsunami’, with costumes by Vyacheslav Zaitsev. I don’t understand how anyone could become so familiar with our street life down to the finest detail. After all, Russia today is street life. The intelligentsia mean nothing here. Zero. And if an intellectual like Volokhov tackles thrash, then probably using thrash he can convey what the intellectual really thinks of contemporary Russia, and what Russia thinks of itself. Most likely it would be impossible otherwise. And in this sense Volokhov achieves a shocking and metaphorically complete form.

For me Volokhov is primarily an artist who has the talent to live and create. Despite the fact that he lives in troubled times. We live in an age when it is not fashionable, cool or indeed much fun to live and create in the grip of human passions. There’s no money in it… nothing. When theatre is still unable to recover and begin speaking the truth. And we are rather tired of socially uncompromising Post Modernism like Pelevin’s. We yearn for a little conservatism and, definitely, great art from our writers. Volokhov stubbornly continues to occupy himself with genuine art. Anybody else would have given up. Penned something a bit simpler, a little more refined, and wormed their way to acceptance. But Volokhov doesn’t do that. He doesn’t try to crawl through the eye of the needle. Doesn’t aim to gratify or curry favor. No! And that is remarkable – such sincerity, the nerve of a true artist. Moreover, an artist with meticulous mastery of the written word.

Volokhov is a superb and original dramatist. Understandably Ionesco was enraptured by his ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’. And the erotica and non-standard vocabulary in his plays are not for épatage, but to jolt to our stifled emotions and feelings.

After reading his play ‘Rublyovka Safari’ some friends of mine remarked: ‘That is real obscenity, you might even say Shakespearean. Great stuff.’

Irina KHAKAMADA (from a TV interview)

‘The play ‘Rublyovka Safari’ is remarkable above all because it reveals the underside of Power with hyper-realistic humor. You believe in Volokhov’s characters to such an extent that it seems this is not simply an avant-garde play whose arrival in the theatre world was set to demolish stagnant, narrow-minded and mediocre principles, but rather that life itself has become so mutinously avant-garde and theatrical that apparently no avant-garde exists without the dramatist Volokhov. As always we must give Volokhov his due: yet again his talent as a writer in succinct metaphorical theatrical form – a real theatrical game for high stakes – has encapsulated a truly tragic time with the metaphorical global precision of optimism engendered by cultural timelessness.’



We’re fine as we are.

Lion Novogonov

When Prince Hamlet said all of Denmark was a prison this dealt a blow to our national pride.

Even more hurtful, the insult is repeated every evening on the stages of theatres worldwide.

No laughing matter. Here is a question of principle.  Every man should decide his allegiance: are you with Hamlet, or with Russia?

avec qui on est: avec Hamlet ou avec la Russie?

With Popov or Marconi? With Watt the Englishman, or our Russian brothers the Cherepanovs?

Did Radishchev, Chernyshevsky, Dostoevsky, Lenin, Stalin, Korolyov and Solzhenitsyn (the list is endless)             serve their sentences in vain, was it for nothing our greatest poets Pushkin and Brodsky went into internal exile if some Danish prince dared to challenge Russia’s priority as a jailer?!

Empty words Mr Hamlet, our President would say.

He has a propensity for prison jargon and maybe this is no coincidence.

Let us turn aside from the President and speak of a far more humble but no less interesting figure. The dramatist Mikhail Volokhov, and his new play Paris Bound, staged by Mikhail Salov and performed by Salov and Dmitri Petukhov.

Who do you think are the main, to all intents and purposes the only, heroes of this play?

Three guesses. You got it: convicts. The prize is yours.

Some of you may say: ‘So what… The artistic imagination – his choice is dictated by flight of imagination.’

To that I say: here is no fancy or flight of imagination, but a conscious act of great civic significance.

Our reply to Hamlet! A jab in Mr Shakespeare’s soft rump.

The plot of this play centres around two convicts, two Russian Hamlets fleeing to Paris on the roof of a goods wagon.

Being Hamlets, they start philosophising.

Philosophising in the first language of this science of sciences – in the language of poetry, thickly spiked with the vilest obscenities, very much in the spirit of our times:

nowadays emotions that tear the human soul apart are intense as the mysterious obscurity of surrounding reality, words simply fail us.

Escape to Paris is another Russian theme from way back.

Whether we escape from the drudgery of lessons at school or repeated nagging from the wife,             the place we flee to is always a Paris of one kind or another – the squalid Paris of Moscow casinos, the hallucinogenic Paris of substance abusers or a tourist paradise – we save our pennies for a week’s trip to the capital of the average-income Russian bourgeois.

But Paris always remains Paris because it is essentially unobtainable. Otherwise what is Paris?

Jail isn’t jail if you can escape from it.

It has nothing to do with impenetrable bars and vigilant guards.

We take it with us wherever we go, the way a snail carries its shell.

Even if the prison gates are ajar for some conditional historical period,             the majority of our citizens never think of escaping.

It’s logical – there’s no point in escaping if you return there anyway.

Pushkin’s image of ‘a slave worn out long ago but dreaming of escape’ is no more than a figure of speech.

All our discussions, all our words are merely idle chatter.

Time to bring this discourse to an end. Another ration of macaroni is being doled out here in prison.

We’re fine as we are. The audience laughs so hard the chandeliers come down.

Regards to Mr Khodorkovsky!


Jitinkin’s speech before the play

Dead Man’s Bluff by Mikhail Volokhov

We have no programmes, so I’ll say a few words about the play before we start.  You see how cold it feels in here — that suits our purpose, I mean the circumstances of the play.

This is an experimental project and you understand of course that it couldn’t be staged in a state theatre.

Still, it’s not ‘epatage’ and we take it very seriously.

Mikhail Volokhov is a well-known and odious figure in theatrical circles.

Even in Soviet times we knew his texts.

But we only had photocopies of his plays and only theatre professionals had access to them.

As you know, at that time staging Volokhov’s plays was impossible.

Our show is actually the first attempt to do this, although I know some experimental theatres use these texts.

First of all I should say that Mikhail  Volokhov writes in the Russian obscene language we call ‘mat’ in Russian.

As far as I can see there’s no children here tonight? Excellent.

This too is important. The language of the play IS NOT the language of the actors but the language of the characters.

What you will see today is a model of sorts. We all remember Stanislavsky’s words about truth in life – in my opinion Volokhov realises this idea to the utmost degree.

You see it’s impossible not to drink in a morgue, firstly because you risk getting frozen stiff.

Then you can’t help using this kind of language if you work in a morgue, otherwise you get beaten up by your ‘colleagues’. It’s a means of survival in this profession.

To those of you who feel it’s going too far and  you don’t feel like listening further, my advice is to endure it for 8-10 minutes and then, perhaps, you’ll be intrigued by the story.

As long as you understand this is just a game, ‘playing at stiffs’ in thieves’ jargon.

By the way, Volokhov is a Russian emigré and as far as I know he’s now thinking of returning to Russia.

His leaving the country had nothing to do with his political views, it was for family reasons: he just married a Frenchwoman.

And perhaps his writing is a sort of nostalgia, a farewell to that phenomenon of our RUSSIAN HISTORY that I call the Phenomenon of  Soviet Idiocy.

We keep asking ourselves: should we continue performing this play?  Considering recent events and the overall situation in the country, we think we should.

When we produced the play abroad, in Paris, the emigrés who came to see it  sought an answer to the question: was leaving Russia the right thing to do? Some think that it was the correct decision, others are still in two minds.

But we all tend to forget the past we shared too soon. Whatever attitude we have to the time we are living in now, whether we are severely critical or feel we are living in some black hole, we must NOT forget HOW we used to live.

That’s why for us this play is like a baguette on which we spread the layers of life.

This is our recent past and it’s hard to perform it as a piece of theatre.

Theatre has its own laws of art and analysis. We have no intention of changing anything, we leave everything as it was:

the face value of the ruble, acronyms like the KGB and the USSR which no longer exist.

I usually give this example: at Sotheby’s and Christie’s works of social realism are in great demand. Is it because of their artistic value? Nothing of the kind, most of them don’t have any. The reason is that this is already HISTORY, part of the Soviet era that is gone forever.

And we thought we could do the same in the theatre: let the stage remind us that such history must never be repeated.

The jargon the whole play is built on brick by brick is a theatrical experiment.

There was a very amusing scene when we produced the play in Paris, not with Bernard Sobel, but at the Sorbonne, INaLCO. The senior students studying Russian were invited to check their knowledge of the language.

In short, for them the play came as a shock – they’d been learning Russian some 5 years and couldn’t understand  a word.

Another interesting story. To illustrate how I hate sanctimonious attitudes and hypocrisy when people ask me why I use this kind of language in the theatre.

Once they tried to show an except on St Petersburg TV, but the bleep kept going

like Morse code. Everybody asked each other what was happening.

Here’s the last example of ‘why I can’t stand sanctimony’. It’s about Misha’s wife Chantal and what she once said about her husband’s work. Now Chantal’s left Moscow, she’s in Germany,   and Misha’s been following her all over the world.

I should say that things have changed for Misha, too:  his books have been published by the publishing houses Glagol and Magazin Iskusstva and his plays have been included ratings of the best European plays.

Dead Man’s Bluff is his bestseller and has been produced in Paris, Switzerland and Germany. This play is well-known all over the world.

I believe that all his plays will be put on the stage one day.

But coming back to Chantal and the time she was still working at the Embassy in Moscow while her husband was living in Paris (a strange couple: the French wife in Russia and her Russian husband living in Paris).

Well, one day she called Misha and told him: ‘I want to congratulate you — you’re a classic writer already.’

When a wife says that to her husband it must be very pleasant, I can imagine how Misha felt at that moment.

And when like a true artist he naively asked her why,

Chantal replied in all sincerity: ‘Misha, every morning I go to the market and people quote you all the time.’

And that is really true. No other country but Russia has so many dictionaries of jargon, Slavists will confirm this and it’s probably why we stay here.

The Russians have unequalled talent in this respect.

A new dictionary of Moscow argot recently appeared and I can tell you it’s nothing less than poetry.

Last but not least I want to introduce the actors: without them it would all be impossible. This is not a joke, I’m serious.

The actors are professionals, among the best representatives of the current generation of thirty-year-olds.

Arkady’s part is played by an actor who made a brilliant debut in the film Menya Zovut Arlekin (My Name is Harlequin)

and acted in many films: Fan, Dirty Thing, Serious Game, Labyrinth.

Then he began making films himself   (Dear Hap, The Time of Your Life based on Saroyan’s novel).

Recently he was elected Secretary of the Union of Cinematographers. And now he ends up in the morgue.

Meet Oleg Fomin.

In the role of Felix you see an actor who is already quite well-known and many of you will recognise him.

This is an actor who’s very dear to me, who participated in several of my projects.

Today he comes into your homes every evening in the Mysteries of St Petersburg serial.

His other films I can name are Deserter, The Psycho and the Trifler. At Lenkom he plays so many parts it’s easier to say what he doesn’t appear in.

In short, Sergei Chonishvili as Felix.

As usual, I wish the actors good luck…

I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. Let’s begin.

Andre Zhitinkin



Dead Man’s Bluff by Volokhov

Ghosts of the Past
Young Moscow actors perform Dead Man’s Bluff by a young Russian playwright — the themes and striking language exorcise the ghosts of the past

If Moscow’s rubbish-strewn streets today reflect a society polluted with aggression, falsehood and corruption, then the state of its language offers an equally powerful image of decay. On every level it grows less cor­rect and literary, and becomes more laden with slang and bad grammar.

In Dead Man’s Bluff, however, the obscenities of ‘mat’ and convicts’ argot which provide the linguistic basis of the text are hardly shocking – instead they come across as carefully selected mate­rial from which a model of pre­sent-day reality can be built.

Written by Mikhail Volokhov, a Russian emigre living in Paris, the play had its first professional stage performance in January 1993.

The director is Andrei Zhitinkin, famous for his scandalous productions of Dog’s Waltz by Leonid Andreyev and Caligula by Albert Camus. He works with two actors from the Lenkom Theater—Andrei Sokoiov and Sergei Chonishvili, both well-known for their film roles. This is an independent production carried out without state funding.

Maintaining the unities of place, time and action, the events of the play unfold in a utilities room next to the morgue of a KGB hospital. What happens here is precisely what should happen in a morgue – routine preparation work: only it’s not dead bodies that are prepared, but the souls of the living. The heroes (or anti-heroes) of the play perform the procedures on themselves, with the final diag­nosis made by the audience. This is genuinely shocking, because ordinary, entirely rec­ognizable social types display a capacity for every possible abase­ment and a willingness to resort to any crime.

One of the heroes, Felix, named after the founding-father of the Cheka is an intellectual, the son of a KGB general. He was raised among the commu­nist elite, the stratum that simultaneously occupied the apex of the Soviet social pyramid, and the depths of an abyss of moral turpitude. His opposite number, Arkady, is a peripheral ‘lumpen’ from the dregs of society, but who matches his colleague in the complete absence of any moral principles.

Felix knows the bloody price that has been paid for his fami­ly’s social status. Aware of the pointlessness of his attempts to resist the past and wrest him­self free of it, he takes the only decision possible. Arkady, on the other hand, doesn’t want to know or remem­ber anything: he accepts life as it is and adapts to the cir­cumstances that present themselves.

Felix’s exit from the game called ‘life’ can only come with his own death. Having decided on this, he stages this death as a tragic farce, with Jesuitic inventiveness. Needing a priest capable of performing the sacrifice, his choice falls on Arkady, hand­some, strong and primitive – ideal executor of the will of another. In order to be sure of his priest, he arranges a diabolical trial, forcing him to kill someone. He thus stages his own play within a play, leading his partner through all the circles of hell.

The audience and Arkady have to wait till the finale before they understand the motivation behind his actions and games. In this game without rules any­thing goes: blackmail, threats, provocation. Felix forces his partner to cooperate with the KGB and the CIA, even in homosexual acts.

This string of torments seems to move towards the only possible reaction – a response in the form of a fatal blow. But while the game’s logic should lead towards one result, in fact it arrives at another. The answering blow never comes, the partner’s reac­tion is paradoxical: he is prepared to accept any rules, to exploit humiliation for his own gain, to accept any system of values.

He is a powerful biological specimen who can survive in any circumstances. However, he is not stupid – he has a sense of humor and can at least appreciate his partner, if not understand him.

What is so terrible is that he is painfully familiar. If he is indeed that new sub-species, that social mutant currently known as a ‘sovok’, then we must acknowl­edge that the development of human consciousness can run in reverse: sovoks of this kind can never make up a society, only a herd. It is a tragedy which remains with Russia today.

The production itself is quite unpretentious. Sim­ple naturalistic stage sets, a catafalque, a preparation table, a trough of human intestines and organs – and beside them a bottle of vodka, some cabbage and ris­soles stolen from the hospital canteen. Against this background a highly complex drama unfolds, in a piece which revives the finest traditions of psychological drama for which the Russian theater was once famous. The director relies on the actors’ abilities, refusing any possible cover from theatrical effects.

Only with intelligent actors, capable of sensing the dramatic nature of present-day reality and the tragic fates of their charac­ters, could this be possible. The director’s choice is outstanding. Sergei Chonishvili, who plays Felix, is not only an outstanding character actor, but a distinctive personality in his own right: he writes verse and prose which express the same tormented search for meaning, and sense of isolation and chaos which per­meates the play.

«Of course, I belong to a gen­eration which never experienced the full horrors of the KGB, the oppression of the totalitarian regime,» Chonishvili said. «But I sense that even today there is some structure controlling all of our lives. It’s hard to define in words, but there is a genuine feeling of some force which directs and pursues.»

«As for the language of the play, of course, none of us had ever used slang to such an extent before. Early rehearsals were extremely hard – it was like we’d been unloading railway wagons. But then we began to feel that this language helped us to get rid of a negative energy. These absurd words become incanta­tions which, on the one hand, have an effect on the viewer’s energy, helping him to attune himself emotionally; on the other hand, their indefinite and multiple dimensions of meaning allow for individual associa­tions.»

Written in the mid-1980s, some of the problems the play touches on are no longer with us. But the people are still here – peo­ple shaped by that recent, terri­ble, absurd life. The play’s judgment falls as urgently on us today: equally on those intellectuals who ‘ignore all rules in exploiting human material to resolve their own dramas and moral conflicts, those willing to be exploit­ed in any way’.

If Russia’s situation can be transformed into images in the artist’s consciousness and presented to an audience, then it can be controlled. We can under­stand and change ourselves. Volokhov precisely fulfils the artist’s role of shocking the pub­lic into alertness.

Staged and acted by young people, Dead Man’s Bluff represents their achievement, and their victory. The simple fact that they have chosen and understood this play, and played it with virtuoso precision is a real basis for hope.

Alia Nepomnyashnaya