Brighton Festival 2020Public booking opens: Wed 19 Feb, 9am

An interview with Dmitry Krymov

Featuring larger-than-life puppets, duelling pianos, living walls and blizzards of newsprint, Dmitry Krymov’s Opus No. 7 (3 - 8 May) is theatre on an epic scale.

On the eve of their arrival in Brighton, The Argus newspaper’s Duncan Hall spoke to Dmitry about the show and what audiences can expect

What made you want to link the experiences of the Jews of Eastern Europe with the life and career of Shostakovich in Opus No 7? When did you first make that link?

I had two absolutely separate ideas a long time ago. One was about the Bible (for some reason there men always bore men). The second one was about Shostakovich, his ingenious martyrdom under the government's oppression. I had them written on different pieces of paper that were placed in different places. Once, when I cleaned up my apartment, I saw both these papers in front of me, and I thought ‘it's interesting to do a two act performance. One about the great people, that feels bad, and the other one about the great man, who also feels bad’. So, the idea to comprise the big and the small - one human being and a People, one man and his past, artist and music, man and death, man and his motherland, mum and so on - was the main idea for this work… the stepping stone for it.

How did the work develop? Did you originally envisage Opus No 7 as a whole piece, or did it come together separately?

Yes, I envisioned one piece made of two parts. The work on the two parts was parallel; there were two different set-designers and two composers working separately on each act. They were not really interested in anything outside their parts. And the idea of it as a whole was only in my head, only during the last period of our work we had started to combine these two parts into one piece.

 Why did you pick those two pieces of music by Shostakovich - the Piano Trio no 2 and the Seventh Symphony? Are they two works which have a particular significance for you?

No, nothing personal or of particular significance. Both these pieces are simply works of genius, and both are very theatrical… and in the Trio there is also an evident Jewish theme, which helps combine the two parts.

Opus 7 was developed with former student designers from your course at the Russian Academy Of Theatre Arts (GITIS) - are they still involved in this touring version? How much has the piece changed since it was first performed in 2008?

The set-designers of the performance are two of my former students, they were on the 3rd year at the Academy at the moment, and this work was their diploma work in GITIS. The actors are the same throughout the years… and I hope, that the performance is too. There is one exception, though: Shostakovich's part together with Anya Sinyakina will be played by one more actress, Maria Smolnikova. Both are spectacular.

Your work has been described as "genre-blending" - is it important to you that your work doesn't get compartmentalised?

Yes, I like it a lot.

How much has your early career as a set designer influenced your stage work as a director? Do you see design and direction as being part of the same job?

What you are in the present directly comes out of what you have been in the past. A man is a unity. He consists of his past at 85% and of his present at the remaining 25%, but it is hard for me to take a look at myself from the side. I think, that it naturally looks as a kind of large compote.

What made you return to the stage after 12 years working as a visual artist?

It was a pure chance… like when you are walking a wide street and suddenly you come across a friend of yours, who asks you to look into a small sideway. You walk in there out of curiosity, and it turns out that it's so interesting there that you don't ever return to your broad street any more. The initial cause of everything is curiosity.

 What was your experience of working with the Royal Shakespeare Company like on A Midsummer Night's Dream (As You Like It) in 2012? Were they supportive of such a dramatically different reading?

The people there are wonderful. When I said to Michael Boyd - their artistic director at the time - that I am a bit afraid of doing my piece on the same stage where Peter Brook staged his ingenious version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, he put my hand on my shoulder, smiled and said 'don't worry, do whatever you want'. It was a gesture of an experienced psychotherapist.

Are you looking forward to bringing your work to Brighton? Where has Opus 7 been performed before? What challenges do you face taking in to different venues?

Opus 7 was performed in New York, Lyon, also in Germany, Poland, Finland and Estonia. We were worried because of the new audiences; whether they will understand the performance, one that we did not intend to tour and that we did for ourselves and for our own pleasure… but so far, everything has been well, fingers crossed!

What do you have planned for the future?

Oh, I am afraid to talk about it...

Dmitry Krymov was speaking to Duncan Hall, Features writer at The Argus. For more Brighton Festival interviews and news stories, visit The Argus.