Published: 13 January, 2013
by LEO GARIB
SOFKA at The Calder Bookshop Theatre
IT isn’t every day you meet a real princess, let alone tuck into dinner with her. But this portrayal of the Russian princess Sofka is so captivating that the only thing to do at the end of the play is accept the invitation for the audience to join her on stage for a post-show meal.
Sofka – the Red Princess – was born into the Russian royal family at the turn of the 20th century and slated to marry the young heir. Instead she led a life dedicated to communist politics and sexual freedom that scandalised society.
Evacuated from revolutionary Russia as a child, she served as a royal lady-in-waiting in London, lived on her uppers for a while and then worked closely with Laurence Olivier. In France in the Second World War she was interned by the Nazis, worked with the French Resistance and later was honoured for saving Jews.
In post-war Britain she was an active Communist Party member closely watched by MI5. She often travelled to Russia, working for the Paddington-based travel agency Progressive Tours, which provided cheap eye-opening holidays for British workers behind the Iron Curtain. Her London soup kitchen led to her well-known cookery book, Eat Russian.
In many ways Sofka was the spirit of the 20th century. She came from rebellious stock – her mother had been a bomber pilot, racing driver and cabbie. Her memoirs, published by her granddaughter, were disarmingly frank about her many love affairs, marriages and shockingly free-wheeling approach to parenting.
In a fabulous one-woman performance, Paddy Glynn brings the Red Princess to life, pottering around her kitchen, preparing her famous borscht and fresh-baked bread for the audience, and reminiscing on her extraordinary life.
Her act is timed to perfection – the lights go up just as the grub is served to the audience, piping hot from the oven. The intimate Calder Bookshop Theatre is the perfect setting for a post-show meal.
It was the ingenious Bahar Brunton who cooked up the idea for the play after stumbling across Sofka’s memoirs a couple of years ago. The director and co-writer Sergio Amigo must also take a deep bow.
Last summer Sofka’s family flew from Greece to watch the play’s first successful run. Afterwards one of her sons tearfully clasped Glynn’s hand.
“That was just like watching my mother,” he choked.
I gather her children and grandchildren have already booked their tickets for this show.
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