Review: BIG TROUBLE AT LITTLE YALTA at Central Standard Theatre

A satire of a conference that shaped the modern world.

By: Jul. 06, 2024
Review: BIG TROUBLE AT LITTLE YALTA at Central Standard Theatre
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It is not often an audience gets the chance to participate in the developmental process of making significant art that also qualifies as fun. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE YALTA by Neal Salvage may be that rare opportunity when parody, satire, and history can come together.

Three friends and experienced actors, Bob Paisley, Nicholas Collett, and Neil Salvage settled in for a few pints at an Adelaide Australia public house.  They were in Adelaide to perform separately as part of the 2019 Adelaide Fringe Festival. Somehow, no one remembers how the conversation turned to national leadership, and then the 1945 Yalta Conference.  The leaders of the most major Allied Countries met to divide up the spoils of war between them in the hopes that future World Wars might be avoided.

Review: BIG TROUBLE AT LITTLE YALTA at Central Standard Theatre
Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt at 
LITTLE YALTA

What if the Allied leaders (Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin) were nowhere as constrained as they actually were with legions of advisors buzzing around them?  Would they have been fun? Would they have been sober?  Would their true thoughts surrounding governance and power slip out of their mouths?  You can imagine the conversation inside the pub and at years earlier at the actual Yalta Conference.

This well-lubricated conversation somehow stuck with veteran playwright, screenwriter, and actor Neil Salvage. Salvage is based in East Sussex in the UK. He has performed in over one hundred seventy productions as part of the National Theater in the UK, and as a long time member of the Old Vic. Several of his screenplays have been produced and a number of his plays.

The next year, Covid-19 caused the international shutdown of free movement.  Salvage sat down to write a play and BIG TIMES AT LITTLE YALTA spilled out.  This production, produced by Kansas City’s Central Standard Theater and Bob Paisley, is the World Premiere.

Review: BIG TROUBLE AT LITTLE YALTA at Central Standard Theatre
Neil Salvage at Winston Churchill

The four Kansas City performances of the play utilize Kansas City audience reaction as a template.  Salvage will further refine the resulting sometimes goofy, always fun, and sometimes out-of-control playscript to make a point and serve as a jumping-off place for a more refined production.  

A film short of the production will serve as a sales tool to book a month-long twelve to sixteen-stop tour of the United Kingdom in 2025, It will be the eightieth anniversary of the Yalta Conference.  If successful, talks for a feature film version are ongoing.

It is February 1945. The eventual victors of World War II in Europe are no longer in much doubt. The D-Day invasion has succeeded.  Belgium, The Netherlands, and France have been liberated. The Eighth U.S. Air Force and the RAF rule the sky over Western Europe. Soviet troops are bivouacked thirty miles east of Berlin. The last-gasp attack of the Wehrmacht at the Battle of the Bulge is blunted over the Christmas holiday of 1944 and defeated. Hitler and his minions are forced into bombproof bunkers underneath the Berlin Chancellery.

Nickolas Collett as Josef Stalin
0Caption

The first of the Nazi Death Camps has been discovered by the Red Army at Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Meanwhile U.S. and British troops discover similar sites at Majdanek and Stutthof in France. What they would find in the months to come was worse by many orders of magnitude.  

U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt proposes the second of three administrative meetings be held on the neutral island of Malta in the Mediterranean between himself, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premiere Josef Stalin.   

Stalin balked.  He claimed to be afraid of flying.  A compromise site for the conference was set at Stalin’s summer palace at Yalta on the Black Sea in what is now Russian-occupied Crimea; a part of Ukraine.  It later became clear that the Soviet leader preferred a location where he was most likely to exercise as many advantages for himself and Russia as were possible under the circumstances.

Review: BIG TROUBLE AT LITTLE YALTA at Central Standard Theatre
Bob Paisley as FDR

All three men were, by this time, near exhaustion.  They had each been previously acquainted.   Churchill had lived at the White House at the beginning of the War.  Roosevelt had spent quality time with Stalin at Tehran, Persia.  FDR thought Stalin was a man he could trust. He was wrong. 

All three men suffered from extremely high blood pressure.  Roosevelt was administered daily cocaine treatments to keep his head clear.  Each was a man’s man in different ways. Each man had a habit with tobacco, and with alcohol. Roosevelt’s health was on a visible downhill track.  He died sixty days after the end of this meeting.

Each leader had an agenda that he wanted to advance in favor of his country.

FDR wanted two major concessions from his partners. He wanted both to agree to join the fledgling United Nations and he wanted to be certain that all the allies would join with America in defeating Japan. Roosevelt knew. of course, about the Atom Bomb Project in New Mexico, but at this point FDR had no idea if the contraption would ever work. It was too soon to even mention it.

Winston Churchill wanted to maintain the British Empire.

Stalin wanted to acquire land to rival the empire that had once been ruled by the Romanoffs before the Marxist regime took power with the Bolsheviks in 1918.

Review: BIG TROUBLE AT LITTLE YALTA at Central Standard Theatre
The Actual Yalta Conference in February 1945

Of course, we know from news photos of the event, that each leader had a legions of advisors buzzing around the conference table. And we also know that Stalin was not a fluent English speaker. But let’s let our imaginations fly. Suppose Stalin had been fluent in English…  Imagine what these three could have said had they been able to communicate without need of staff.

This satirical look at the February 1945 Yalta Peace Conference features the three then most powerful heads of state in the world. They were Bob Paisley as U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Neil Salvage as British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, and Nicholas Collett as Soviet Premiere Josef Stalin.

And that is the jumping off place for the most important peace conference in a century. With the conference host, Josef Stalin, attempting to pull the strings as an expert puppeteer, the secretly recorded and surveilled meeting quickly spins out of control.

Salvage’s Churchill is outstanding.  Paisley’s Roosevelt shares a hint of the aerodyne Hyde Parkian accent.  Collett’s Stalin is as we might imagine him to have been, rough and not all that different from Adolf Hitler.   It is a fun adventure with certain touches of Gilbert and Sullivan if you listen closely.

With only a couple weeks of rehearsal, BIG TROUBLE AT LITTLE YALTA is a representative production that is fun even if it needs a little smoothing out.

It will be an amusing and interesting project to watch and see where the show goes from here.

Photos courtesy of Central Standard Theatre

and the

Library of Congress 




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