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We Are the Himalayas

"a tightly focused historical drama"

Audrey review: Left homeless after the closure of Limelight on Oxford, Mark Langham's Soviet-era drama lands on its feet.

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We are the Himalayas

Date: 7 Jul 2019

This production was one of several left homeless by the sudden closure of Limelight on Oxford a few weeks ago.

After some wandering in our arts infrastructure-challenged city, it’s landed on its feet.

While the backroom disco of the former World Bar on Bayswater Road isn’t an ideal environment for theatre, for a play that’s largely set in a prison cell, you’d be hard pressed to find better at short notice.

Written by Mark Langham, We are the Himalayas is a tightly focused historical drama set in the Soviet Union of the 1930s.

Anna Larina Bukharin (played by Charlotte Chimes) is in prison. Her crime? She is the wife of Nikolai Bukharin (Ben Mathews), an architect of the Soviet revolution (Lenin’s “Golden Child”, no less) who has fallen foul of Stalin’s paranoid Great Purge of colleagues and kingpins.

In a series of flashbacks, we see how Stalin laid his trap (sending the Bukharins on a no-hope mission to Paris to purchase the Marx-Engels archive) and, through encounters between Anna Larina and secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria, come to understand how completely inescapable it is.

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Langham’s script works well, capably balancing the task of enlightening audiences to the inter-war Soviet mindset and creating interesting characters who are more than mouthpieces for the delivery of information. Langham demonstrates a light touch when it comes to necessary exposition.

Using the room’s low ceiling to his advantage, designer Damien Egan uses wooden palettes to shutter the space and create the rough-hewn feel of a prison.

Patrick Howard’s sound design conjures up the clanking of doors and the rattling of the prison’s bush telegraph system very effectively. Sophie Pekbilimi’s lighting conjures a suitably oppressive atmosphere.

Directed by Richard Cornally, the acting is uniformly good and evenly matched, the stand-out being Steve Corner’s cold-blooded, sexually predatory Beria.

To paraphrase Stalin, one man’s death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic. We are the Himalayas puts a human face to what is for most unimaginable.

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