A near three-hour play based on ten days in 1917, covering the overthrow of the Tsar and his government, the second revolution, the creation of the Soviet Union and the rise of the Communist party, does sound rather a heavy affair. It might seem one for historians with a masochist streak. But incredibly, it is anything but. Rather, it is a masterpiece of writing, acting, and staging. In places it is truly epic. Well, most of it anyway.
Whilst the first half doesn’t feel at all like 90 minutes, the second half does lose some momentum as it careers towards the end. In attempting to fully tell the events, things get a little bogged down. These scenes may be vital for the story, but they could be reconsidered to keep the audience fully engaged. But let’s not allow 20 minutes out of three hours to cloud over the fact that this is a truly blockbuster endeavour of writing, staging, sheer enjoyment and even education.
Condensing so many events into one play was always going to be a challenge, and you suspect as much was probably cut as made the final script. But even so, it acts as an incredible history lesson. At times I found myself slightly lost, but never enough to distract from the pure enjoyment.
Maybe because of writer and director Matthew Jameson‘s close association to The Space (he is Deputy Director of the venue), Ten Days perfectly considers it’s setting. Every inch, every door (and there are lots of them) is used. This helps scenes to fly by, switching from stage to balcony to the centre of the traverse seating. It certainly keeps the audience and cast on their toes, as attention is thrown from one side of the theatre to the other, often without a pause for breath. The closing moments of the first half when the revolution takes place are wonderfully directed, the unrelenting pace as scenes ping pong all around helping build tension. We’re almost left with sore necks, as scenes begin in a new location almost before the last has finished.
But what lifts this from history lesson to incredible entertainment is the humour and knowing nods to the present day. A statement in defence of an inept leader, “He might not be a micromanager, but he got the big calls right”, elicits laugher as the comparison with our own recent political history is clear. As for the mention of three-word slogans to cover up having no real plan, well, let’s just say “stop the boats” shall we.
With a cast of ten, some performances stand out better than others. Jameson wonderfully fills the narrator role of John Reed, the American journalist who found himself documenting the events depicted. Other stand out performances come from Deven Modha’s wonderfully camp Kerensky, Tice Oakfield’s turn as Nicholas II which wouldn’t be amiss in Blackadder, Oyinka Yusuff’s duplicitous Trotsky and Matthew John Wright’s cerebral Lenin, whilst Clementina Allende Iriarte and Salvatore Scarpa multi-role superbly to fill the gaps.
Ten Days is an absolute epic endeavour. You can feel what a labour of love it has been for Jameson who has spent ten years writing this (you can hear more about this in our recent interview here). It more than justifies the effort. It’s easy to imagine the play appearing for a ten-week run in the West End, it has that epic feel about it. And maybe if enough people see it and are inspired by it, we can learn from history that revolutions can happen, even with a mixed bunch of fools leading the charge.
Written & Directed by: Matthew Jameson
Assistant Directors: Andy Straw & David Grindley
Musical Direction by: Tice Oakfield
Dramaturgy by: Mike Carter
Produced by: BolshEpic Theatre
Ten Days plays at The Space until 25 March, including a live stream on 23 March, which will then be available to watch for the following two weeks. Further information and bookings can be found here.