On my continued mission to absorb Mikhail Bulgakov’s complete oeuvre on stage I am in the vaults under the Curtain Up pub in Kensington which hosts the Barons Court Theatre underneath. It is my first visit here and after a German version in Zurich and a subtitled performance in Russian the first time I see Bulgakov being played in English. Hosting an audience of sixty I take my seat and when I hear the wood creak it feels like I arrived in the setting of a horror movie set, shot without sound and in black and white.
The Fatal Eggs transport us to 1920s Moscow, the storyline tidied in several chapters and visually supported by projected animation. The main character is a zoologist whose research is being stopped when the heating resources stop and the terrariums for his amphibians and reptiles can no longer be heated. Complaining to the local government only results in a visit from a general who, after an epidemic of poultry deaths in vast parts of Russia, is in desperate need for a patriotic success story. The zoologist’s recent discovery of aggressively multiplying plasm has already caught his and the media’s attention; the general is convinced that what works with tadpoles must work with chickens as well. Nicknamed “eggspert” by the newspaper the researcher’s scientific warnings are ignored, and the upgraded eggs are distributed to the hungry provinces as fast as possible – a fatal mix-up only comes out when predatory snakes and alligators hatch everywhere in Russia…
I have not read the novella but the political bitterness of this venomous satire bites through in the hour this play takes. The scientist’s storyline is only one of two: On stage, we also meet Bulgakov the author, involuntarily interrupting what is happening midway when having to amend his creation’s destiny to avoid censorship. This is not the story of a mad scientist but that of someone being given almost messiah status and then made solely responsible once a disaster happened. Bulgakov celebrates his tenth anniversary as a published writer and shares in a speech how his name has been demonized and how his plays are being forbidden already during rehearsal. That he has been advised to leave the country and then not been granted permission to travel abroad. Being directly in contact with Stalin, who highly valued Bulgakov’s work, did assure that he continued working in Moscow’s theatres – it did not though allow him to bring much of his own works to the stage before his death in 1940. I promise myself to be more thankful to live in today’s time.
The Fatal Eggs by Mikhail Bulgakov
**** out of 5 stars
Adapted by the production company So It Goes Theatre.
Playing at the Barons Court Theatre until April 27th, tickets from £12.