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21 July, 2021

THEATRE REVIEW: Get onboard the Petrograd Express

“None of this would have happened if we did not get on the train.”

By Peter McCullagh

This Thursday Night, Petrograd Express by Ken Cotterill opens for a short season at the Rondo Theatre in Cairns.

I had the pleasure, and it was a pleasure to see the play in its final technical and dress rehearsal on Tuesday night.

This is a historical narrative. Lenin, leader of the Russian revolution is in exile in Switzerland along with his wife, mistress, aide and supporters.

The revolution is building, Lenin wants to return to lead and direct the road to a better world. There are a few issues standing in their way.

Germany is at war with Russia, the best way for Lenin and his supporters to get to Russia is using a German supplied train that will traverse through Germany allow Lenin to return quickly to lead his revolutionaries.

Do the means justify the end? Will Lenin and his supporters be deemed German collaborators by the Russians, or even traitors.

The story is brilliantly crafted. It rolls effortlessly along, propelled by a skilful Peter Merrill as Lenin.

Cotterill has grabbed a slice of history, fleshed it out and given it depth and relevance. We all face life changing decisions, the right and wrong, and seeing it before us on stage, challenging us, dividing us, and awakening in us the question of what would we do? It is indeed masterful writing by Cotterill.

Peter Merrill is uncanny in his portrayal of Lenin. The right height, physical presence, and mannerisms, and just the right intensity. A man who could see the future but needed to deal with the here and now.

Lenin’s wife, Nadya, played by Ola Adamczyk was interesting. Nadya by all accounts was a strong revolutionary, a woman ahead of her time, yet in Cotterill’s play she had a venerable side. She resented his mistress and Nadya craved to hear her husband profess his love and devotion to her, his desire to return to Russia as a couple with his wife by his side.

This venerability was played well by Adamczyk and scripted masterfully by Cotterill.

Petrograd Express is great script and entertaining as well as challenging play. I would rate it as a must see, although a short season, I have no doubt it will be picked up by other production companies and given a life it truly deserves.

The closing scene, all four characters give you a rolling narrative as to what happens in the months and years after their triumphant return to Russia. A mixed outcome for all four, but the lasting memory from Lenin, “None of this would have happened if we did not get on that train.”

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