Breaking the Silence

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A: Stephen Poliakoff Pf: 1984, London Pb: 1984 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: A railway carriage, Russia, 1920–4 C: 5m, 2fThe once-rich Jewish family of the Pesiakoffs have, in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, had their mansion requisitioned by the army and are now obliged to live in a railway carriage on the outskirts of Moscow. The father Nikolai, appointed telephone examiner of the Northern Railway, is accompanied by his wife Eugenia, teenage son Sasha, and maidservant Polya. Nikolai's main interest is to explore ways of recording sound on to film, and he vainly insists that the new government should support his research. Nikolai goes off for an inspection, taking Sasha with him. A thousand miles up the line, Nikolai uses government money to buy scrap metal for his invention. That summer they are joined by the two women, who try to maintain pre-Revolution luxuries. Nikolai totally neglects his official duties, and Eugenia has to do his work for him, holding things together even during the civil war. Four years later, Eugenia is dressed like a peasant, and both she and Polya go out to work, while Sasha, now at school, is becoming critical of his father. Nikolai has at last succeeded in recording sound and requires only some lenses to make a talking film to prove it. On Lenin's death, the family are warned to leave the country at once, and Sasha smashes up the carriage, including the awaited lenses, in order to force his father to go. At the border, Nikolai is arrested, but is released when Eugenia pleads on his behalf. The family continues into exile.

A: Stephen Poliakoff Pf: 1984, London Pb: 1984 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: A railway carriage, Russia, 1920–4 C: 5m, 2f

Based on the experiences of Poliakoff's own family, Breaking the Silence carries a title with many meanings: Nikolai's invention, which will ‘alter communications’; the revelation of the truth about the arbitrary exercise of power in post-Revolutionary Russia; and Eugenia's belated admission about her feelings for Nikolai.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Stephen Poliakoff (b. 1952)

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