OUTSIDE EDGE / Kevin Jackson is takes for ride by the Bolsheviks

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The Independent Culture
WHERE is the last place on earth that a young Communist militant will address you as tovarish? The remote hills of Uzbekistan? Some forgotten, perestroika-free zone deep in Siberia? A haven for exiled Stalinist diehards somewhere in darkest Albania? Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The correct answer - according, at least, to the great French director Chris Marker in his recent documentary The Last Bolshevik - is on the South Bank, London SE1.

It is here that the Museum of the Moving Image has re-created one of the agit-trains which took moving images of class war out to Russia's illiterate peasantry in the years immediately after the revolution. Part of the attraction for Momi visitors is the chance to see extracts from early Soviet classics by Eisenstein, Vertov and Pudovkin; but the main attraction is the chance to be lectured and fired to new heights of proletarian consciousness by a real, live Bolshevik.

One such firebrand is Alexandr Alexandrov, who, in his hours off from the struggle, goes by the name of Nick Khan and carries a party card marked with the appropriately socialist slogan, Equity. Alex, dressed in the height of Bolshe-chic with his leather jerkin and red armband, speaks with a thick Russian accent and greets new arrivals to his carriage with enthusiastic cries and banter: 'Da, da, come in, my friends, come in . . . Ah, you smell of cows, my friend, this is good, you are from our glorious peasantry . . . .'

It is, to say the least, an energetic performance, and Nick Khan has to improvise his way through it every working day, adapting his material to suit everyone from toddlers to the odd smarty-boots who thinks he knows a thing or two about Mayakovsky. 'Which stand-up comedians have to work that hard?' asks Mo Heard, who is manager of the actors' company at Momi. 'It's an extremely tiring job.' Indeed, and just to make things even trickier, Mr Khan spends every other week playing a character from the other side of the ideological spectrum - a dashing fellow from the Hollywood of 1939.

A similar burden of two heavily improvised roles is shared by each of the 18 actors who make up the Momi company, and who between them entertain and enlighten the public in about six of the museum's areas. According to Heard, the way in which they are used here is 'pioneering, really - other museums will have actors coming out to deliver a set-piece, but we were the first to have them interact with the customers.' In this sense, you might say that Momi's policy has been . . . well, revolutionary.