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We Are the Himalayas

Mark Langham's new play We are the Himalayas depicts the most brutal of times through the eyes of a remarkable woman.

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Peak Resilience

Date: 24 Jun 2019

I guess there are still some writers who don’t get their initial ideas from Wikipedia; strange, wraith-like creatures who stumble around darkened streets asking strangers, in vaguely threatening whispers, if they have any decent development ideas.

I pity them.

I have a fascination with the Soviet Union, especially the Stalinist era, and this play is the second time I’ve tried to capture a small, human element of that most brutal of times. Wikipedia spat out the name “Anna Larina” one day and said that, among other things, she was the wife of Nikolai Bukharin.

Bukharin was one of the intellectual architects of the Soviet revolution – Lenin has dubbed him the “Golden Child of the Revolution” – and, sadly, one of the first, high profile victims of Stalin’s purges.

I was intrigued enough by Anna’s wispy Wikipedia page to source her autobiography This I Cannot Forget, written in the early 1990s, by which time she was a free woman. In total she spent more than 20 years in various gulags and prison camps, was forcibly estranged from her infant son and had a second family with a fellow inmate while under arrest/detention.

Stalin’s oft-repeated quote that one death is a tragedy but a million is merely a statistic has always struck an uneasy note with me.

How do you put a face to a million (or 20 million) lives taken in the name of ideology and paranoia?

The answer, for me, is that you don’t. You focus on a person or a group and reflect the event through their eyes.

Anna had a story that grabbed me.

I recognised in her a strength, a resilience, I am sure I don’t possess and, mercifully, I have never had to test that theory. She survived to reconnect with her first child – by then an adult man – and rehabilitate the name and reputation of Bukharin.

The story of triumph over oppression is, shamefully, one that keeps being repeated as the years unfold.

It does us good to remind ourselves of this periodically and, thanks to Brave New Word Theatre Co., I’m glad to play my own small part.

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