Paddy Glynn in Sofka
Published: 17 January, 2013
by LEO GARIB
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 her 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 royal heir.
Instead, she led a life dedicated to communism and ideas of 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.
During the Second World War she was interned by the Nazis in occupied France, worked with the French Resistance and later was honoured for saving Jewish lives. 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 embodied the spirit of the 20th century. She came from rebellious stock and she was indefatigably modern and progressive in her views. Her memoirs, published by her granddaughter, were frank about her many love affairs, marriages and free-wheeling approach to parenting.
The play is written by the ingenious Bahar Brunton, who cooked up the idea after director Sergio Amigo stumbled across the memoirs in a second-hand bookshop.
In a fabulous one-woman performance, Paddy Glynn brings the Red Princess to life, reminiscing about her life as she potters around her kitchen preparing her famous borscht and fresh-baked bread for the audience. And 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.
Over borscht and bread, I got talking to Glynn, who revealed she spends a couple of hours each day kneading the dough and preparing the ingredients before the lights go up.
Last summer, Sofka’s family flew from Greece to watch the play’s first successful run. Afterwards, one of her sons tearfully clasped Paddy’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.
UNTIL FEBRUARY 3
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• The Calder Bookshop Theatre is at 51 The Cut, Waterloo, SE1 8LF.