The Royal Shakespeare Company is to launch a series of four specially-commissioned plays about Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union in Stratford-upon-Avon next year, in a move it is hoped will attract international billionaire investment.
Michael Boyd, the RSC's artistic director who trained in Moscow early in his career, told The Independent yesterday that he wants Russian money to flow into theatre in the way that it has helped the visual arts to prosper. London's auction rooms have witnessed the emergence of Russian buyers in recent years. Earlier this month, Dasha Zhukova, the girlfriend of Roman Abramovich, opened a gallery in Moscow and helped to organise the Serpentine Gallery's summer party.
Mr Boyd said he was inspired to launch the theatre project, which has been three years in the planning and which includes a play staged under his direction, to highlight how Russia's theatrical tradition "rivals our own".
"We launch Other Russia – an exploration of Russia and the former Soviet Union countries, drawing on the great Russian theatrical tradition with some of Eastern Europe's most inspirational new writers. I am looking forward to directing The Grain Store on the main stage at The Courtyard Theatre.
"It's a big moment in Russian history as it tries to engage with capitalism and the West. It is the major supplier of energy for the rest of Europe. It's an interesting time to see whether there will be a new clampdown, a new Cold War, or whether freedom will again be curtailed.
"It's a moment of crisis and therefore, it is dramatic," he said. The first two Russian plays, to be staged in September next year, are The Drunks by Mikhail and Vyacheslav Durnenkov, about a soldier returning from Chechnya as a reluctant hero, and The Grain Store by Natalia Vorozhbit, in a tale of 1930s famine in Ukraine.
The season, which will blend a clutch of classics with brand new plays, will continue in 2011, when it will stage two further premieres related to Russia, called Little Eagles by Rona Munro, a sweeping history play about the space race between USSR and America, directed by the RSC's associate director, Roxana Silbert, and Silence, which follows a disenchanted British journalist travelling to Moscow.
Further ahead, there will be new stagings of Pushkin's Boris Godunov and other less frequently seen classics by Gogol and Chekhov. Other Russia will conclude with an as-yet-unannounced transfer of a major Russian-originated production of a Shakespeare play.