Plays by Maxim Gorky

Children of the Sun (Trans. Mulrine)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Maxim Gorky's play Children of the Sun is a Chekhovian family drama, written while its author was briefly imprisoned in Saint Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress during the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905. It was initially banned, but the imperial authorities allowed it to premiere on 24 October 1905 at the Moscow Art Theatre.

This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2000.

The play's title refers to Russia's privileged intelligentsia, epitomised by Protasov, who is high-minded and idealistic but out of touch with the reality of life, especially for the working classes. The play is set during one of the cholera epidemics of the previous century, but was universally understood to relate to contemporary events, and has come to be seen as a prophetic echo of the coming revolution.

Children of the Sun (Trans. Upton)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Protasov, detached and idealistic, wants only to immerse himself in chemical experiments to perfect mankind. He’s more or less oblivious to the voracious advances of the half-crazed widow Melaniya and his best friend’s unrelenting pursuit of his wife, let alone the cholera epidemic and the starving mob at his gates. While Nanny fusses round, Protasov’s admiring circle, variously sceptical, romantic and lovesick, spar over culture and the cosmos. Only Liza, neurotic and patronized, feels the suffering of the peasantry and senses that their own privileged world is in jeopardy.

Written during the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905, Maxim Gorky’s darkly comic Children of the Sun depicts the new middle-class, foolish perhaps but likeable, as they flounder around, philosophizing, yearning, or scuttling between test tubes, blind to their impending annihilation. This translation by Andrew Upton was first performed at the National Theatre, London, in 2013.

Enemies

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

1905. Russia is at a turning point. Zakhar Bardin is from the landowning class, but is now the uneasy owner of a factory. His managing director is determined to face down militant workers on a point of principle. But the shutting of the business has tragic consequences for everyone concerned.

Gorky's extraordinary play, which was written in exile and banned in his home country, presents a panoramic view of a restless society, with a bourgeoisie no longer sure of its own values, and a working class steadily facing up to the terrifying sacrifices ahead. Described by Ronald Bryden in the Observer in 1971 as 'a real discovery... the missing link between Chekhov and the Russian revolution', Enemies has a dramatic breadth, humour and ambition unique to Gorky.

Maxim Gorky's Enemies is adapted by David Hare and premiered at the Almeida Theatre, London, in May 2006.

Philistines

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Sung at a funeral and a wedding today. The full gamut of the human experience from the ridiculous to the utterly pointless.

A restless bunch of young radicals hang out, have sex, dance, drink, moan and philosophise at the home of a prosperous decorator. While Pyotr, a sometime student of law, falls for the lovely, loose-living lodger, his sister carps on about the tedium of life, lusts after Nil who's blind to her charms but in pursuit of the servant and botches her own suicide.

Life. People shout, fight, eat and go to bed. When they wake up? They start shouting again. In this house everything fades quickly. Tears, laughter. Everything. Dissipates. The last sounds ringing out over the lake. Then nothing. A banal hum.

A household falls to pieces as the personal and political turmoil of pre-revolutionary Russia gathers pace. Gorky's darkly comic first play of 1902, banned from public performance under the Czarist regime, is seen here in an exuberant new version by Andrew Upton.

Philistines premiered at the National Theatre, London, in May 2007.

Picture of Maxim Gorky

Maxim Gorky was born in 1868, suffered a deprived childhood and spent his early youth as a vagrant, but by the 1890s he was ranked with Tolstoy and Chekhov among Russia's leading writers. For long he was best known in the West as a novelist, notably for The Mother (1907) and for the three volumes of his Autobiography, with only The Lower Depths (1902) established on the stage; but in the last third of the twentieth century his other plays began also to be recognised for their portrayals of the painful pre-revolutionary decades. Besides Philistines (1901), these included Summerfolk (1904), Children of the Sun (1905), Enemies (1906) and Vassa Shelesnova (1910). After some equivocation and years in exile, he finally embraced the Revolution, and died in 1936.