The Russian Olympic Football Team. Well they were actually a sound bunch of engineers, but they favoured the red white and blue tracksuit as their cabin wear. Alex, Maxim, and Nikolai were the key characters, with support from half a dozen other people who were returning to the eastern Russia after a diploma course in Moscow. Salt of the earth types. In their early and mid twenties. People you could quite happily get locked in a train carriage with for 8 hours at a time. Which was lucky.
The Russian Olympic Veteran Shouting Team. In their forties, these people included a Russian Army Officer in a strategic rocket command unit who had been partially blown up by an anti tank mine during one of his two tours in Afghanistan, and Nikiloai II. Characteristics include refusing to believe you can’t speak Russian, and shouting words at you until you feign comprehension.
An Olympic Wrestling Team from Parts Unknown. Favouring dark blue tracksuits, these included a gaggle of Sergei, and a few others, one of whom was a bare-knuckle, head butting and wrestling combatant.
Steven Seagal. Well Sasha actually. In that he was a cook on the train, and was ex-forces having fought in Chechnya recently. A thoroughly kind spirited guy if truth be known, and exhibiting a remarkable tolerance to alcohol.
The alcoholic Alex II, who had a case of 24 vodka bottles for his 6 day journey. Often to be found staggering and mumbling, and chuckling in a shambolic kind of way.
The English Man Renowned for his lack of Russian language ability.
The play is set in Russian, Pictionary, and Ionary (when there was no pen or paper for pictures), but has been translated to English text.
The play is set during a 80 hour period in March on a train from Moscow to Irkutsk.
The set includes 2 cabins with two pairs of bunk beds each, and a small fold down table. Each cabin is decorated with at least one inebriate person passed out at all times. One cabin is home to the Olympic footballers, the other to The English Man and Nikolai II.
A dining car – simple tables set up in a carriage in the middle of the train, with a table of produce to be bought. This includes booze, fags, and chocolates.
There is also a small part to play in the toilet / washing area. It has a hole in the floor for drainage, a toilet in which waste can exit onto the tracks, and a small wash basin. With lukewarm and cold running water.
The smoking scenes are set in an unventilated, unheated space with locked windows at the end of each carriage. They smell of smoke. Alot. Considering all of the cast but one are heavy smokers.
There are segways in the corridor running past the cabin, with two attendants for each carriage of 9 cabins, and station platforms covered in ice and snow, at which the train pauses for between 5 and 30 minutes at a time
Beer is drunk constantly. From the minute the characters wake up, to the minute they fall into a deep snoring slumber. The only times the characters are without beer is when they are necking vodka, and smoking.
Scene I – You liyke dreeenk RRRashan Wardka?
Needless to say, this is a scene in which our hero, The English Man, is rescued from The Alcoholic by the Football Team. They drink vodka late into the night to celebrate, and invite our hero for lunch the next day. The Footballers actually do speak some English, so much showing of photos, shouting “Penis!” ensues. Not that there are any photos of Penis, just in case you wondered, although numerous poloroids are taken.
Scene II – The English Man Gets Way-laid
Not wanting to go empty handed to lunch with the Footballers, our hero goes to the restaurant carriage at about 11am to get vodka to take. The scene ends with our hero in bed at about 4pm, having not succeeded in leaving the restaurant carriage with his vodka unopened, or indeed with any vodka in it. The two things seem to be synonymous. Open Bottle, Empty Bottle. Lunch is soup made with a cup full of boiling water from the carriage samovar. (old boiler. tended by an old boiler, Irene, and a helpful young attendant, Ulle) Steven Segal gets threatened by An Alcoholic due to some mix up about Chechnya.
Scene III – Lunch Happens Finally
This scene is set in the Footballers cabin. It starts of with a very generous feast with includes Salay (lumps of pig fat), bread, noodles, smoked sausage, bread pockets filled with mashed potato, blinis filled with tofu (allegedly), and anything else brought from one of the crones hawking stuff on the platforms. One thing leads to another. The barriers of language are mysteriously and temporarily transcended. Conversation topics include:
- Big Penis (a natural evolution from ‘Not having seen your wife in 3 months’)
- Macroeconomics and Russian policy (sometimes high-falluting, sometimes ‘Putin says “Fuck You Danivostock”‘)
- Strategic Rocket Unit deployment
- Tattoos and the army
- more disturbing was a tendency to want to drive the Japanese back into the sea, and to shoot all of the Chinese in Russia
- Russia having a forested area 5 times the size of Brazil.
- diving in -30C water necessitating the use of vodka before and after each descent
- taking a sauna in a woolly hat necessitating the use of vodka during the birching therein (there were photos)
- the state of the nation in general
One piece of action sees the cast running about with the pace of the truly crazed on the platform of Taiga, smoking fags, trying to build snowmen, throwing snowballs and cackling maniacly. At about 4am. Our hero is surprised to see the dawning of a new day from the humid insides of the cabin. After one more vodka toast (to help him sleep) he slinks off to bed.
Scene IV – The Big Sleep
Our hero sleeps, and the Footballers energetically try to wake him for more high jinx. Every couple of hours. Our hero is still far too shitfaced to be grumpy, as is his normal outlook upon waking.
Scene V – The English Man is Thirsty
Our dehydrated hero drinks all the fluids he can find, but still craves more. He declines the loud vodka advances of the Olympic Shouting Veterans, and goes back to sleep.
When he wakes again, the train is stopped at a station, giving a perfect opportunity to purchase mineral water. But Maxim, long-of-arm and kind-of-heart reluctantly informs our hero he is too late, and the train is about to depart. Seeing the desperation in our hero’s eyes, he lurches into the smoking / carriage-exit area, and hollers for mineral water over the shoulder of Nikolai II, who then starts barking “Wodka” to everyone on the platform.
The train pulls away, Nikolai II is barely hanging onto the train by his fingertips, grinning madly. Only the herculean efforts of Alex bring the floppy forty year old back onto the train. At pace. With a fag in his hand. After much shouting and showers of burning fag ash, water is delivered to our hero and the party is safe. Vodka drinking is resumed.
Scene VI – Evolution of a Species
The table in the cabin is littered with the usual fare. A tin of ‘pork’ is opened. The ‘pork’ looks like rejected spam, and is layered in fat and grease. (Quite tasty – good in soups and to add a bit of piggy punch to noodles) Nikolai, a vodka soaked Olympian slouches forward, cutting his head on the opened tin. The train passes one of the secret nuclear waste processing plants. A strange reaction starts to occur in Nikolai’s body. The blood from his cut forehead mingles with the pig fat. The pig fat mingles with the vodka….
Nikolai awakes the next day, feeling not in the slightest bit cold. He walks onto the train platform rumoured to be at -20C, in just his tracksuit, with no hat or coat. He feels excellent and toasty. Doctors are called in to look at this medical curiousity. It turns out that by some freak accident, Nikolai is blessed with a body separated into two flowing fluid systems. His lymph system has grown strong and now pumps pig fat. His brain alone is fuelled by vodka, which refuses to freeze. He has become Siberia-Man. He seems happy enough though, and has a great smile across his face.
Actually, I made the last bit up to be honest. But it does seem that a diet of pigfat and vodka has a lot to be said for it. Why do they never need to drink water? How can they survive on beer?