Some people say you can measure the gravity of Shakespeare's  tragedies by the dividing the number of characters left standing at the end by the number of corpses strewn across the stage.  By that measure, the production by the National Theatre in London of "The White Guard", a play based on the eponymous novel by Michael Bulgakov, scores highly.  What's most striking, though, is not the number of characters who are killed or maimed in the two-and-a-half-hour running time of the play.  It's the sheer pointlessness of their deaths, as different armed factions circle the city and Ukraine heads towards decades of Communist rule. 

The play has a pretty complicated historical backdrop, and I overhear several members of the audience expressing confusion about what is going on.  That's hardly surprising.  For me, the main messages are that chaos and anarchy are bad for everyone's health and quality of life; and that democracy, although imperfect, is a better way of choosing one's leaders than mob rule, armed insurrection or totalitarianism.  OK, so we knew that already; but "The White Guard" rams home the message.

Much of the action in the play, incidentally, takes place in the "Turbins' House" in Kyiv.  I read the book "The White Guard" before seeing the play - it's an easier read than some Bulgakov, and shows in more detail than the play the complexity, horrors and humanity of life in Kyiv in 1918.  Recommended.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

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Ukrayinska Dumka


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