Leon Trotsky (Vlady T) sits at a table at Café Central, Vienna, in Januray 1913, working on a manuscript. Lenin (Albert Goikhman) drops by along with Freud (Lawrie Fildes), then Jung (Jan Mihal), Stalin (Cory Corbett) and a young Tito (Nenad Samardzija). Later they’re joined by Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand (Colin Donald) with his wife Sophie (Milijana Cancar). A glamorous Alma Mahler (Dayna Boyse) pops by to flirt with Jung. There’s an appearance by a struggling artist (Marcus Cain). The men ply themselves with anything/everything alcoholic, keeping waiter Ludwig (Thomas Midena) hard at work.
The idea of putting significant historical characters together to wave willies at each other stopped there rather than being developed into story. Is Trotsky and Friends a play or an overlong sketch? In tone and direction writer director Brendan Black is trying to do both –Trotsky and Friends doesn’t know which genre to aim for. The problem with this humorous piece is that it’s lacking story, which makes it problematic as a play but it’s far too long for a sketch.
There’s wit in Trotsky and Friends but no real point to the goings-on so it comes across as being clever for the sake of it. The play could be hilarious and work well if it were pulled apart into a series of ongoing smart pieces featuring the various characters bumping up against each other as they do. The men merely lock antlers – the play makes this point but without making any others. We don’t get to hear what Trotsky is writing about or really hear any of these great shapers of society argue politics or psychology; the subjects are touched on only superficially.
The second half is livelier than the first and when women arrive (but don’t stay, sadly; females being added on as a tokenistic afterthought) things liven up again; a refreshing change. Freud gets some of the best lines and cheeky asides but you can’t get away from Black’s Freud being so utterly unlike the original. Freud and Jung do too much yelling at each other. There are some adorable performances, most notably and fabulously from Mihal as Jung. Goikhman is a consistently present Lenin, especially in terms of physically inhabiting his character while getting progressively drunker, Cancar glows briefly as Duchess Sophie, as does Marcus Cain in a brief but funny turn (and an impressive acting debut) as the Penniless Artist – the only character who gets any sort of arc or shift; again, lack of personal journey wouldn’t matter if this work were a set of comedic sketches.
The play claims to ‘descend into farce’ so a look at introducing more entrances and exits might help. Black’s background is in film, which is probably why there are so many characters and no doubling up of actors. The cast does excellent work with the accents – solid preparation here is paying off nicely.
Overall Trotsky and Friends is entertaining and employs some strong humour. It’s always good to see a work with ambition and an original idea tackling historical topics.
Bon Voyage Productions presents
Trotsky and Friends
by Brendan Black
Director Brendan Black
Venue: The Owl and the Pussycat | 34 Swan St, Richmond VIC
Dates: March 23 – 31, 2016
Tickets: $35 – $30
Part of the 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival