I Sniper, appropriately enough, starts with a bang. A group of Red Army soldiers march on stage as commands are barked at them in Russian, culminating in a chorus of ‘The Red Army is the Strongest’. A medal is pinned to one of the soldiers' chests and Lyudmila Pavlichenko steps forward - a sniper with 309 kills to her name, hero of the Soviet Union. She addresses us in Russian and another soldier translates her words. She is thought of as a legend or a ghost, but she was real and this is her story. The cast of nine from Acting Coach Scotland bring Pavlichenko’s story vividly to life, from her schooldays to her time teaching at the Red Army sniper school. With different actors taking on the central role throughout, distinguishing themselves by the medal on their chest, the ensemble works tirelessly and efficiently together to tell the story of this Soviet sniper.
The cast and crew of Acting Coach Scotland should be proud of such a powerful and cleverly executed production.
The beauty of this premise is in its simplicity. A change of epaulettes or coat, a different hat, or even a cigarette all serve to distinguish different characters. The set is comprised of wooden chests, and is used to transport us from the university’s sniper school to an army barracks, and later to the deck of a ship. The smooth transitions in time and place are helped by the cast, who easily assume different roles as the scenes demand it. Special mention must be made of Daniel Jones, who plays a variety of roles including training officer at the sniper school, a sailor, a commander and even a general, performing each role uniquely.
Despite the show’s fast pacing and the quick succession of scenes with a lot of information to take in, I never felt overwhelmed. Conversely, I learned a great deal about Pavlichenko’s life and the times in which she lived, and it's left me wanting to learn more. The action and movement of the piece was interspersed with moments of reflection from the actors playing Pavlichenko, elevating the play from a staged reading from a history book to a reflection on the human cost of war. She sheds a tear for the girl she has been, and for Maria, a girl who had been violated by the Nazis. War is not just soldiers and tanks; it is the civilians who suffer most. As Pavlichenko explains ‘This was not war, this was extermination’.
So many aspects of this story - from the atrocities of war, to the men’s doubts about a female sniper and commanding officer - are still relevant today. Carrie Dodds delivers the play’s powerful final monologue with tears in her eyes, and in the eyes of several other actors. Tears for why a nation felt ashamed it had to turn to women for help, tears for the women who would not, and could not, return to the roles they had played before the war. The story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko is one that needs to be told, as do more stories like hers - just as well, as this company has told hers. She states, ‘I was a sniper and I am proud’ - the cast and crew of Acting Coach Scotland should be proud of such a powerful and cleverly executed production.