Oleg Mirochnikov: London is an Ideal Stage

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Oleg Mirochnikov: London is an Ideal Stage

Oleg Mirochnikov is a London based Russian theatre director and acting coach. He has been teaching at the famous Central St Martins College of Art and Design and working in the London film industry for 17 years. As a teaching coach he covers techniques ranging from Stanislavski and Vakhtangov to devised and physical theatre. These days he is participating in the project that aims to introduce unknown treasures of Russian drama to British audiences. Oleg is directing the play “A Warsaw Melody” by Soviet playwright Leonid Zorin which will be performed at the Arcola Theatre London, later this month. While the preparation of the play is in the full swing, RussianMind spoke to Oleg:

RM: Is Leonid Zorin famous in Britain? [He's the author of some favourite Russian plays, such as “Pokrovsky Gates” and “Royal Hunt”. His plays have been staged in Europe and his son is a well-known teacher of Russian literature at Oxford].

OM: His play ‘A Warsaw Melody’ was staged in 150 Soviet cities and in 14 European countries. It deserves its place among the drama classics and it can be compared with the well-known plays ‘Waiting for Godot’ and ‘Educating Rita’. But we are the first to show this outstanding play on the British stage.

RM: How is the preparation of the play going?

OM: From success to success! Our enthusiasm has spread to the administration of the Arcola theatre, and they put us on in March-April. It is good luck as this theatre is one of the most advanced in London and all the drama graduates want to perform here. The Polish Cultural Institute is supporting us financially as the main heroine in the play is a Polish singer and part of the play takes place in Warsaw. In the play there are only two heroes – a man and a woman. The male hero will be played by Oliver King, who is also the producer of the project. For the female part I chose one of my ex-students. I find it easier to work with people I know.

RM: Is it true that you’ve developed a new unique method of acting?

OM: Yes and no. My method grows out of Vakhtangov traditions (editor: Yevgeny Vakhtangov, Russian actor and theatre director who founded the Vakhtangov Theatre), which itself continues the methods of Stanislavski (editor: Constantin Stanislavski, Russian actor and theatre director whose system of acting was built on the naturalistic movement and has developed an international reach). Stanislavski's system has been firmly established as a part of the teaching programme in British theatre schools, but Vakhtangov’s method is virtually unknown here. A lot of English directors work in this style, but most of them come to it intuitively. And I am the only teacher of the Vakhtangov’s method in Britain. Moreover I was taught by Vakhtangov’s students, so I have direct training of his traditions.

RM: What are the main features of this style?

O.M.: The main feature is to replicate the well-known Stanislavski system. Stanislavski tried to recreate reality on the stage and make it as close as possible to the truth, almost photographically. Vakhtangov believed that theatre should remain theatre and reality should not only be reflected on the stage, but recreated again with theatrical techniques. So he called his method “Fantastic Realism”.

RM: In ‘A Warsaw Melody’ two people have to make a choice between love and duty, or rather the circumstances, which affect their love. Is the female character a strong woman?

OM: As an admirer of Anton Chekhov I easily recognise in Zorin’s plays echoes of “The Seagull”, “Three Sisters” and the “Cherry Orchard”, written by Chekhov. Chekhov certainly adored women, understood them and knew how to write about them to open them mentally and psychologically. Zorin also loves and understands a woman, he admires her greatness and her ability to conquer difficulties. In “A Warsaw Melody” we are introduced to the heroine when she is a young student and trace her path through the hardships and losses, seeing how she becomes stronger and forms her personality. I think it is not an exaggeration to compare her with Maria Callas, especially at the end of the play. This is the scale her identity becomes as a result of the hardships endured.

RM: A sad story…

OM: Yes, I would call this play a story about missed opportunities. It is about the importance of not allowing outside circumstances to take over your life, as the man of the play Victor lets it happen due to his indecision. I am sure that a lot of people in any country will identify with these themes.

RM: What do you want to dedicate yourself to in the near future?

OM: I continue to teach at St Martins. Belka Productions also is going to establish a training studio. I have already taught the Vakhtangov method beyond the university so I might try it at Belka. I also like coaching film actors, to help them prepare the role. I normally have to deal with Russian accents or sometimes the Russian context of their roles in general. 

RM: And how do you find London?

OM: London is an ideal place for people like me who want to develop in several directions at the same time: to teach, to act, to coach and to direct. And here you do not have to lose your identity. I have the advantage of having experience of the Russian theatrical traditions, culture and mentality. If you are ambitious, if you are hungry for work, if you are resourceful, intelligent and flexible, London is a great city for a theatrical person. That is why I am hoping to invite recent graduates of Russian drama schools to work here in London. I am sure that we will all benefit from such collaboration!

“A Warsaw Melody” premier takes place on the 28 March and will continue until 28 April at Arcola Theatre.

Address: 24 Ashwin Street Dalston, London E8 3DL

belkaproductions.co.uk, arcolatheatre.com 

Text by Polina Dronyaeva