The Suicide

Written by Nikolai Erdman (translated by Peter Tegel)

Thursday 26th to Saturday 28th February and Monday 2nd to Saturday 7th March 1987

Directed by Jo German

A Russian black comedy of the twenties, banned by Stalin, 'The Suicide' satirises the plight of an unemployed man, desperate enough to contemplate ending it all, until he is besieged by a host of discontented characters begging him to kill himself as a gesture for their cause. "Only dead men say what the living think".

AuthorNikolai Erdman

Nikolai Robertovich Erdman (1900 - 1970)

Erdman was born, lived and died in Moscow. His father was a civil servant. In the 1920's he wrote many satirical revues for the stage. His first full-scale play, written for the Meyerhold Theatre in 1925 'The Mandate', sharply satirised the philistines in various walks of life. In 1928 he wrote 'The Suicide'. After that, mainly in collaboration with Volpin and Mass, he wrote scenarios for the music halls and libretti for operettas such as 'La Belle Helene' and 'Die Fledermaus'. He probably updated and Sovietised the spoken dialogue. He also wrote scenarios for films such as 'The Other Woman' (1929) and 'Jolly Lads' (1934). During and after the war more than ten films were produced from scenarios he wrote together with Volpin: 'Hallo Moscow!' (1946); 'The Border Guard Post in the Hills' (1956); and others. He was awarded a State Prize in 1951 for 'Brave People'.

TranslatorPeter Tegel

Peter Tegel

At the age of six, Tegel escaped from Sudetenland with his Czech-German family, fleeing to Britain from the Nazis. He graduated in modern languages from Balliol College, Oxford and produced translations of German and French writers, and latterly Russian literature. Tegel is currently co-chair of The Pushkin Club - an organisation dedicated to preserving the values and traditions of Russian literary and artistic culture.

PlayThe Suicide

'The Suicide' was written in 1928 but its performance was forbidden during the Stalinist era and it was only produced in Russia several years after the Erdman's death. Today it is regarded as one of the finest plays to have come out of Communist Russia. The plot centres around a young, unemployed man, Semyon, who believes the answer to his problems is to learn to play the tuba. However, his plan fails and he contemplates suicide. His neighbour, Alexander, decides to make money from Semyon's misery by exploiting his intended suicide to several bidders. These bidders planned to exploit Semyon's death to the furtherance of their own individual cause. The Intelligentsia, represented by Aristarch, is the first to approach him. From this point on, Semyon finds himself being manipulated by various people representing the business world, the arts, the workers, romance, etc. During the course of the play, each character reveals the worst side of their personality.

The Bench Production

The Suicide poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Semyon PodsekalnikovPete Woodward
Maria PodsekalnikovaJude Salmon
Serafima IlinichnaJanet Simpson
VolodkinaJanice Bell
Margarita PeryesvetovaRuth Prior
Alexander KalabushkinPeter Holding
Aristarch GolashchapovDavid Penrose
Cleopatra MaximovnaLezley Picton
Egor TimovyeyevichRussell Lockwood
Nikifor PugachovTerry Cattermole
Viktor ViktorovichDamon Wakelin
Father ElpidiDavid Hemsley-Brown
Raissa FilipovnaJane Hemsley-Brown
Boy, Kostya, 2nd IndividualAlan Jenkins
Ivan Peryesvetov, 1st IndividualRichard Stacey
Zinka, MillinerRobbie Cattermole
Groonya, DressmakerCerys Hogg
Deacon, Oleg LeonidovichVincent Adams
Coffin BearerStephen Evans
Coffin BearerPete Codd


Director Jo German
Stage Manager Janice Bell
Assistant Stage Manager Pete Codd
Lighting Design Jacquie Penrose
Lighting Operation Daniel Shires
Sound Simon Iggleden
Costume Ingrid Corrigan
Set Design David Penrose
Set Construction Pete Codd
John Valentine
Front of House Belinda Egginton
Poster Design Charles Payne
Programme Peter Corrigan
Paula Martin
Publicity John Valentine

Director's Notes

A Russian black comedy of the twenties, 'The Suicide' satirises the plight of an unemployed man, desperate enough to contemplate ending it all. The play considers the nature of humour; the hearts of the self-centred characters who will use anyone to further their own selfish aims; and the triumph of the individual, who keeps his dignity in a society where the slogan "for each and all" echoes emptily. For Semyon, only the prospect of death can give the individual the freedom to act and speak as he wishes

All that, and it is still a very funny play.

Jo German

"To sue to live, I find I seek to die
and seeking death, find life: let it come on."

'Measure for Measure', W SHAKESPEARE


The NewsSue Wilkinson

Sarcastic black comedy makes 'em die laughing

Suicide is usually no laughing matter, but members of the Bench Theatre had 'em rolling in the aisles with their performance of Nikolai Erdman's black comedy at the Havant Arts Centre.

Banned in the author's homeland, Russia, because of its blatant attack on the Soviet system, 'The Suicide' is full of spleen and sarcasm for the Reds who won't help themselves live with the revolution. Finding comedy where few have gone before or since, Erdman sets up an unemployed man, Semyon, to kill himself. He is beset by lily-livered representatives from the world of business, art, philosophy, passion and the working class, all too scared to speak out themselves, but who each want Semyon to die a martyr on their behalf.

The stage is populated by stereotypes: a northern businessman; a vamp and less than pious clergyman, among other, which are admirably created by the cast. Pete Woodward and Jude Salmon shine in the leading roles. 'The Suicide' can be seen until Saturday, March 7.

The News, Friday 27th February 1987

Production Photographs