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Dying For It
by Moira Buffini, freely adapted from Nikolai Erdman's The Suicide

Cast & Crew

Semyon Semyonovich Podsekalnikov Andrew Rowe
Masha Lukianovna
Gemma Knight
Serafima Ilyinichna
Pauline Sawford
Alexander Petrovich Kalabushkin
Richard Jordan
Margarita Ivanovna Peryesvetova
Patrcia Coleman
Yegor Timoveivich
Chris East
Aristarkh Dominikovitch Grand-Skubik
Mark Farey
Kleopatra Maximovna
Alexandra Aldridge
Father Yelpidy
David Chappell
Viktor Viktorovich Gary Ingham
Stepan Vasilievich
Scott Reid
Oleg Leonidovich Jamie Barnes
Beggar Musicians Nigel Crouch, Fred Parker, Mario Nobre

Directors Tamsyn Payne, Alex Rex
Production Design
Tamsyn Payne
Stage Manager
Claire Tong
Assistant Stage Manager
Production Assistant
Katie Port
Lighting Design Kate Shaw
Set Builders
David Payne, Bill Pollard, Steve Bignell
Set finished and props made by Cast and crew
Kiki’s costume
Sarah Quinn
Additional costumes
The Works
Hair and makeup
Anna Thorpe, Nich Bull
Technical Support Andy Nettleship
Anne-Marie Sandos
Front of House
Masque Theatre members

Andrew Rowe as Semyon and Alexandra Aldridge as Kiki. Photo by Joe Brown

Production No. 372

More images from Dying For It


Tamsyn Payne, director

It may not be an easy sell:  an avant-garde Stalinist-era play about killing yourself. But Moira Buffini’s Dying for It (translated from Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide) is one of the funniest, most beautiful scripts I have read in a long time. Here’s why you should get yourself a ticket…

1. New faces  The cast features some talented new blood alongside Masque stalwarts: unemployed Semyon (Andrew Rowe) is at the end of his tether, he lives off the meagre earnings of his wife Masha (Gemma Knight) in the hallway of the dilapidated flat belonging to his interfering mother-in-law Serafima (Pauline Sawford). In this cramped community there is no privacy from their neighbours: Alexander (Richard Jordan) and his tart-with-a-heart girlfriend Margarita (Patricia Coleman) and from the complaints of voyeuristic communist postman Yegor (Chris East). With no self-esteem left, Semyon resolves to shoot himself. But word gets out, and suddenly he is besieged by people begging him to kill himself on behalf of their different causes.

The intellectual Aristarkh (Mark Farey) wants Semyon to represent freedom of speech, the romantic Kiki (Alexandra Aldridge) is desperate for him to die for love, the vodka-soaked Father Yelpidy (David Chappell) wants him to be an example of what happens when you forsake God, and the people's poet Viktor (Gary Ingham) urges him to do it on behalf of the proletariat.

Ironically all the attention gives Semyon a new-found sense of self-respect and he regains his lust for life. But with the midnight deadline set for his suicide he gets carried along on a wave of drunken exhilaration towards his end. But not surprisingly things don’t go quite as planned…

2. It is genuinely funny As with all great subversive comedy it shines brightest from the darkest corners of the human soul and there are some delightfully absurd touches (Semyon sees his last hope at self-respect in learning to play the tuba or Alexander wrestling him to the ground to stop him shooting himself with a sausage).

3. It is relevant Though written 90-odd-years-ago, the themes of jobless young people, driven to the edge of despair rings a sadly familiar bell. The over-arching message of the play - ‘life is beautiful’ is one that we can all cling to.

4. It’s an important piece of theatre Stalin banned The Suicide on its dress rehearsal after which Erdman was imprisoned and then sent into exile in Siberia. The play didn’t appear again until 12 years after the writer’s death and only established itself in the Russian repertoire after the collapse of Communism. Buffini’s translation was premiered at the Almeida theatre in 2007 (initially championed by Kathy Burke and later directed by Anna Mackmin) to great reviews. Its not just a great piece of theatre it is socially and historically relevant and I feel privileged to direct it.

In the words of The Guardian’s Michael Billington:  ‘it deserves to be far better known since it is the best Russian theatrical satire since The Government Inspector’.

20 - 24 April 2010 at 7.45pm
The Playhouse Theatre, Clare Street, Northampton

Page last updated: 15/04/2012 Masque Theatre © 2012

by Ian Clarke

Having some knowledge of the background of this play we were a little unsure how such a large ‘message’ might transfer and be successfully conveyed out of such a small performing area as the Playhouse allows. We needn’t have worried though for, as they say, laughter is good for the soul and Dying For It had plenty on offer which effectively transported the ‘message’. Throughout its entire running time, this version of Nikolai Erdman's political farce The Suicide was packed with comic gems.

It started with 10 minutes of almost complete darkness illuminated occasionally, but enormously effectively, by candles being lit during which a hilarious - with an almost a too familiar domestic ring to it - comedy developed over a black sausage.

The selfish Semyon Semyonovich (Andrew Rowe) bickered late at night first with his wife Masha (Gemma Knight) and then her hilariously intense mother, Pauline Sawford’s Serafima. Semyon had been forced to live off the meagre earnings of his wife as they lived in the hallway of a cramped flat belonging to his interfering mother-in-law, where they were often interrupted by their neighbour having noisy sex with his girlfriend and the frequent complaints of a voyeuristic and self righteous postman.

With little or no self-esteem left, Semyon decides to shoot himself. But word gets out and suddenly he is besieged by people begging him to kill himself on behalf of their different causes. His neighbour, Alexander Petrovich (Richard Jordan) becomes embroiled in the plot as does his late night guest, the strident Margarita (Patricia Coleman). This hard-as-nails lady kept a bar that seemed most useful for nefarious purposes involving young women and she spent little time with her 83-year-old husband. Eventually, the would-be suicide was talked around and given purpose in life with the prospect of Semyon learning to play the tuba!

From there, the play opened out into a rich satire on Stalin's Russia and suddenly the grim, grey space -  a very public hallway landing - became awash with symbolic visitors.

The intellectual Aristarkh (Mark Farey) wanted Semyon to represent freedom of speech for the intelligentsia summing it up thus: "Nowadays, only the dead may say what the living think". The romantic Kleopatra (Alexandra Aldridge) was desperate for him to die for love of her, Father Yelpidy (David Chappell) tried to persuade him to let his suicide be an example of what happens when you forsake religion, and the people's poet Viktor (Gary Ingham) urged him to do it on behalf of the proletariat. 

Ironically, with all this attention (and indeed the money which follows), Semyon began to feel important and regained his sense of self-respect, thus rediscovering his desire to live. But a midnight deadline had been set for his suicide and as everyone gathered for a party to give him a big send-off he was carried along on a tide of drunken exhilaration towards his end. Not surprisingly though, things didn’t quite turn out as planned during an increasingly bizarre sequence of events.

In a society where free speech was suppressed, and state spies - represented by the seemingly ever-present Chris East as jumped-up postman Yegor - abound this was the blackest type of comedy. It is no surprise that the play was banned at home so that its world premiere took place in Sweden. Even as late as 1982, over 50 years after it was completed, it received another Moscow ban.

There was far more to Dying For It than the political element. Moira Buffini gives it modern robust language packed with wit and our director Tamsyn Payne ensured that the evening had the pacing of a farce. Arguably that is what it is but there were no slammed doors and the physical humour was limited although Andrew Rowe did get to clown around, particularly when his character managed a messianic resurrection!

The supporting cast were excellent. David Chappell hilarious as a vodka priest with more earthly than eternal interests having a great line in fire and brimstone sermonising; and Alexandra Aldridge - sexy as romantic flirt Kiki - were particularly memorable.

An excellent night out for us enjoying local theatre at its best. Congratulations to all cast and technical support and particularly to Tamsyn.  A job well done ... ‘Life is beautiful...’