Taking its title from one of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s greatest poems, in which the future poet of the Russian Revolution revealed that he could be as tender hearted as “a cloud in trousers”, this play sets out to bring us the story of the man himself.
Trying to capture the essence of an artist like Mayakovsky is arguably as impossible as trying to capture a cloud, but Trafford’s play gets us as close as we are likely to get.
While focusing on Mayakovsky’s personal relationship with married couple Osip and Lili Brik, Steve Trafford’s play succeeds in giving a real sense of the wider political context of Russia in the frenzy of revolution.
Mayakovsky appears to us as a self declared “man from the future”, sort of a socialist Doctor Who figure, who has no time for the rules and conventions of what seems a dying world in a state of permanent war.
Mayakovsky falls in love with Lili Brik, whose husband, Osip, happens to be Mayakovsky’s publisher, and the three then try to commit themselves completely to breaking with the old ways of living and loving. As Lili puts it, “How can we be communist with our ideas, and be bourgeois, possessive, about each other?”
Their attempt at making “a revolution within a revolution” faces all sorts of obstacles, not least because the outside world is changing as well.
The play evokes the darkening atmosphere of Russia under the rising Stalinist bureaucracy well.
Despite the ultimately tragic outcome, and the dawning realisation by the three that “we don’t live in the world we are striving for”, their unbroken commitment to a different world means the play is not without hope, nor humour, and should not be missed.
A Cloud in Trousers
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