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The Theatreguide.London Review

Stray Dogs
Park Theatre    Autumn 2019

The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova is not exactly thrilled when Stalin asks her to produce poems that celebrate the wonders of Stalin and the soviet system, in Olivia Olsen's play Stray Dogs.

After all, the soviet system is responsible for the killing of her former husband, and her lover Osip Mandelstam. But apart from the grave risk to her safety if she refused, there is the matter of her son languishing in a labour camp.

The play shifts between her meetings in the early 1940s with Stalin in his office and the visits she receives from the gentle romantic figure of the Russian émigré Isaiah Berlin (Ben Porter).

The performance includes Anna (Olivia Olsen) speaking short extracts from her fine poems and odd moments of humour such as the occasion when Stalin (Ian Redford) tells her to 'not mention Churchill. I hate fanatics.'

However the characters spend so much time telling each other about events, places and famous names from Pasternak to TS Elliot that they barely get the chance to develop any depth or dramatic tension. Sometimes the things they say also seem improbable. Would Anna really respond to Stalin's question about what to say to Isaiah Berlin with the words 'Improvisation and lasting impulse'?

Instead of an exploration of interesting people caught up in dangerous times, we have a generally static drama, in which barely sketched characters too often sound like the writer giving us her research,

Keith McKenna

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Review - Stray Dogs - Park  Theatre 2019