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It's Moscow, 1938. It's a dangerous place to have a sense of humour; even more so a sense of freedom.
Mikhail Bulgakov, living among dissidents, stalked by secret police, has both.
And then he's offered a poisoned chalice: a commission to write a play about Stalin to celebrate his sixtieth birthday.
Inspired by historical fact, "Collaborators" embarks on a surreal journey into the fevered imagination of the writer as he loses himself in a macabre and disturbingly funny relationship with the omnipotent subject of his drama.
Killing my enemies is easy.
The challenge is to change the way they think, to control their minds.
And I think I controlled yours pretty well.
In years to come, I'll be able to say: Bulgakov?
Yeah, we even trained him.
He gave up.
He saw the light.
We broke him, we can break anybody.
It's man versus monster, Mikhail.
And the monster always wins.
John Hodge's blistering new play depicts a lethal game of cat and mouse through which the appalling compromises and humiliations inflicted on any artist by those with power are held up to scrutiny.
"Collaborators" by John Hodge is premiered at the National Theatre, London, in October 2011.
It is published here with an introduction by the author.