Calder Bookshop and Theatre
Reviewed – 2nd November 2018
“Santarosa’s design for the space treated its few square metres of floor with brutal efficiency”
Inga at the Calder Bookshop and Theatre is an English-language translation of the original work, published in Russian in 1928 by Anatole Glebov. At its heart, it appears to be asking what it means to exist as an autonomous individual within a system that requires everyone to play a specific part. Set in a Soviet clothing factory at the beginning of Josef Stalin’s first five-year plan, Inga chooses to focus on the issues faced by young women. The shift from the paternalistic, male-dominated structure of pre-Soviet Russia to the hypothetically egalitarian Communist system was far from smooth sailing, and this play captures some angles of this struggle.
In many ways, there is something disconcertingly familiar about it. Perhaps there was a conscious effort in the translation, but some of the lines – “this is what happens when women are given power”, “your job is to stay at home, and look after me” certainly didn’t feel like they were last spoken in 1928. The sexism and abuse piled onto the female characters felt so draining because it’s not yet dead, and taking another look at these issues in social context so far removed from our own was a very interesting process to watch.
Similarly, the play touches in some depth on the double standards that the characters face. Two co-workers entering a relationship and the woman seeing far more consequences than her male counterpart is another situation that we still see plenty of today, and Inga managed to explore this without falling too far into the traps of cliche.
It feels important to add that this theatre space is absolutely tiny, with only a couple of dozen chairs grouped around the stage. Personally, I felt that this added an interesting element of accountability. Essentially, this is a play about individuals choosing where they stand, and justifying it to the people with whom they have to co exist. By having the audience placed so inescapably in the action, we were offered as much of a choice as any of the characters.
Marcio Andrey Santarosa’s design for the space treated its few square metres of floor with brutal efficiency, using only simple lighting techniques to shift it from location to location all the way through. At times, it did feel a little like they were doing too much. With a big cast and a variety of different threads of story running alongside one another, both the stage and plot occasionally felt a little too busy, suggesting that it could have benefited from some streamlining. With that said, the variety of focal points does allow for the situation’s complexities to translate.
This is an interesting adaptation from quite far outside the English speaking, Western canon that tends to dominate our stages, taking a long, hard look at problems that are, perhaps, completely universal.
Reviewed by Grace Patrick
Calder Bookshop and Theatre until 25th November