Interview with Oliver Bennett and Vladimir Shcherban.

Oliver Bennett (left) and Vladimir Shcherban (right) pictured above run the growing theatre company HUNCHTheatre.

They have taken time out from their exhausting schedule to discuss with me the success of their energetic and fantastic play “A Hero of Our Time” which has recently been on tour in Russia where the book originated. To their latest idea about a play focusing on the experiences of an east London Ambulance driver. Here is what the pair of them had to say.

1 Future company plans?
Our brand new show is a very exciting theatrical response to last year’s attempted Novichok poisoning called ‘To See Salisbury’ by banned Russian satirist Victor Shenderovich. This is a co-production with HUNCHtheatre and Stage RC (run by Irina Ioannesyan) which mainly works with the Russian community in London. Director Vladimir Shcherban made two versions of the show – in Russian and in English. The cast of Russian version is mostly political refugees and activists and it will be touring Ukraine and America in November. We are performing the English version at RADA from 27th June – 6th July.
Victor Shenderovich has written a darkly imaginative response to this important event. It seems strange to us that the theatre world in Britain hasn’t responded to it yet. We wanted to be the first. We like this play because it offers an unusual Russian perspective it is like a window into the side of the country that you don’t normally see. People in Britain think of Russia as some strange, mysterious and hostile place so we think it’s important to show an intelligent Russian writer examining their own country. For this version we have tried to find the points of connection with Britain – there are lots of similarities with the way Russia views itself and the way Britain views itself. We have tried to bring these out.
It is especially interesting as we have just returned from St Petersburg where we toured HUNCHtheatre’s first show ‘A Hero Of Our Time’.
2 Why you chose the play “A hero of our time”? And that playwright?
We like to follow our hunch when we choice work. Only when you look back can you see the logic. ‘A Hero Of Our Time’ is a layered and complex piece of literature that is not very well known in the English speaking world. So we wanted to introduce Mikhail Lermontov to new audiences. We started performing it in director Vladimir’s living room to just 10 people at a time. Things snowballed from there, we went to Soho, Edinburgh, the Arcola Theatre in London, then Russia and Germany!
We also wanted to see how this text resonates now. Lermontov has created a central character who is both an abuser and a victim, he is contradictory and ambiguous. We think it is interesting to present this kind of character now.
3 How was the play received in Russia?
They absolutely loved it! Especially the younger audience members. We have had emails from young people saying how much they loved our fresh perspective on the text. We made it quite modern, mixing up the nineteenth century Russia with twenty-first century London. Audiences were taking lots of photos and filming parts of it. The play was performed in English and it is very fast, but audiences still understood and felt the story.
4 Your worldwide plans to extend the theatre company?
We are an international company. Our headquarters are in London but we have departments in Belarus and Berlin. We want to extend this to every country in the world! We want to spread the ethos of following your hunch, creating work fast while the idea is fresh and alive.
5 The planned work you are doing about the London ambulance driver?
We have another new show in the works. Someone got in touch with us after seeing our production of A Hero Of Our Time. They asked us if they could send us a book in the post. Of course, we agreed! It came through my letterbox the next morning (hand delivered). It is a brilliant book, the real-life experiences of an ambulance driver in east London. It is funny, brutal, compassionate and beautiful. It is a perfect chance for us to explore the realities of London life, where are the first two shows were focused on Russian experiences. We are starting to adopt it right now. We will keep you updated!
6 Plans to do a project about Meyerhold?
There is another long term to show that we are working on. A play about the life, work and death of Soviet theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold and his wife Zinaida Reich. We are developing this with the Arcola Theatre in London and we want to make it an international project with our partners in Belarus, Russia and Germany. Meyerhold was the darling of the revolution, the first Bolshevik director, but he fell foul of the authorities and ended up tortured and murdered. This story is a chance to look at the relationship between art and power. And to look at the realities of revolution. It is also a chance for us to rehabilitate Meyerhold as a theatre artist and look at his work and his example can teach us today.
7 How and why was HUNCHtheatre created?
We (Vladimir Shcherban and Oliver Bennett)set up HUNCHtheatre because we wanted to work in a way that allows us to truly follow our hunch, to be free of obstacles and barriers. We want a new kind of contact with people and the most direct route between the birth of an idea and it is presented to our audience.
We also want to mix British and European aesthetics. It has been interesting touring with our show and seeing theatre across Europe. We believe that a mixture of European styles and methods can produce an exciting total theatrical experience. We want to launch our educational programme in association with RADA to spread these techniques.
We love it when people are inspired by our work and get in contact, it’s how many of our projects have developed. We believe in our right to make art, our right to be spontaneous and follow our hunch wherever it takes us.

So if you like the sound of our approach we would love to hear from you!


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