Socialist Worker

Theatre: A Model for Mankind

by Simon Behrman
Issue No. 2197

The career of composer Dimitri Shostakovich and his relationship to the rise and fall of the Russian Revolution is a fascinating and complex subject.

For this reason his life and works have been a lightning rod for debates on the relationship between art and politics.

At the centre of this controversy is the question of whether or not Shostakovich was a dissident or a “loyal son of the Soviet Union”.

Shostakovich was one of those caught up in the Stalinist counter-revolution that reached its height in the late 1930s.

Luckily for the composer, he got off relatively lightly. His works were banned and his name slandered in the official press. But many of his friends, relatives and fellow artists ended up in slave labour camps, or were summarily executed.

The narrative of A Model for Mankind is centred on this dark era in 20th century history.

Unfortunately, the play trivialises Shostakovich’s struggles by reducing the question of the extent of his resistance to motives of sexual jealousy and personal ambition.

This is a slight on Shostakovich’s integrity and bravery in standing up for his fellow artists, even while he himself was in danger of being arrested.

Sadly Shostakovich did compromise himself with his closeness to the regime in the 1960s.

But to telescope these events during a period of relative liberalisation with the bloody years of Stalin’s rule instead compromises the integrity of the narrative, not to mention the reputation of Shostakovich

A Model for Mankind is at the Cock Tavern theatre, London, until 17 April


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Reviews
Tue 13 Apr 2010, 18:51 BST
Issue No. 2197
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