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The Single Passion

The Times, 6th November 1967

BBC2 commemorated the Russian Revolution last night in Ronald Eyre’s play ‘The Single Passion’. This told the story of the rebel student Alexander Ulianov, executed at the age of 21 for his share in a plot to murder the Tsar. This happened 30 years before the revolution, and quietly watching events is Alexander’s younger brother, the Vladimar Ulianov whom history knows as Lenin.

Mr Eyre has used the historical event to explore the inner nature of a police state. The Ulianovs were minor aristocrats; Alexander’s father, an inspector of schools, was a liberal. Alexander himself, alive at a time when ‘a good man has to be a murderer’, helped to plan the assassination and provided the necessary bombs with more enthusiasm than expertise. Police spies had uncovered the plot in its inception and the conspirators had no chance.

The strength of Mr Eyre’s play was not the open, heroic idealism of young men, but his picture of the tortuous machinery in which they had entangled themselves. It does not seem to be a machinery peculiar to Petrograd in the 1880s; its complex of ambitions, suspicions and betrayals belongs, I suppose, to Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, and any country in which the pursuit of power is an end in itself.

Possibly, if we are looking for historical fact, ‘The Single Passion’ showed, notably the methods of the secret police, as an organisation dedicated to its own perpetuation, seemed too sophisticated for the period. It conveyed a truth not superior to but capable of illuminating facts themselves.

In a well-acted play, Michael Pennington provided a vividly heroic Alexander, Alan Webb, a likeable father, and John Moffatt, a frightening, resourceful secret policeman. Stuart Burgess’s direction took its time and by doing so achieved a powerfully claustrophobic suspense.

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