The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and a 23rd-century Australia have some surprising connections in the 1999 play The Woman in the Window.
The worlds have their similarities and differences, but both are repressive. One is based on history, the other is a chilling possibility.
It's by New Zealand-born Australian writer Alma De Groen.
Her other works include The Sweatproof Boy and The Joss Adams Show (both 1972) and The Rivers of China (1987), which won the Premier's Award in NSW and Victoria.
In 1998 she was the first playwright to receive the Patrick White Literary Award, for her contribution to Australian theatre.
The play is the fifth Canberra Repertory Society production for 2019 and is directed by Liz Bradley.
The Woman in the Window begins in 1951, a couple of years before Stalin's death.
Karen Vickery plays real-life poet Anna Akhmatova (real name Anna Gorenko).
Anna's first husband was killed by the Secret Police and her son and her second partner were incarcerated for many years in Gulag camps (the latter died there).
Anna's work was condemned and censored by the authorities.
However, she chose to remain in the USSR and bear witness to what was happening rather than emigrate.
She was forbidden to write but was not killed or made to "disappear".
Vickery says of her character, "She's too famous and too loved by the people."
Instead, in the play, the ailing Anna is confined to house arrest under surveillance.
She must appear in her window twice daily to show the secret police she is still there.
But in a secret act of rebellion, Anna keeps writing.
Her loyal companion, disgraced maths teacher and scientist Lilli Kalinovskya (Lainie Hart) memorises each poem and then they burn it.
"That was true - she kept the poetry going," Vickery says.
"It was published after the death of Stalin."
The role of Anna has a personal dimension for Vickery, whose Russian grandfather lived through the 1917 revolution and its aftermath before moving to China with his family in the 1920s.
"I'm a direct descendant of Genghis Khan and a Tartar princess," Vickery says.
"I felt this kind of exciting connection [to the play] based on that."
Vickery says many of the lines spoken by Anna in the play "are things we know she said",helping to add a bit of verisimilitude to the character and the action (even though much is, of course, is invention or conjecture).
The actress, a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art where she also taught and directed. She has had a prolific career including roles with Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir, and on radio and television.
Since coming to Canberra to work as director of visitor experience at the National Portrait Gallery she has acted with various Canberra theatre companies in many plays including August: Osage County (for which she won a CAT Award), Steel Magnolias, The Importance of Being Earnest, the local and touring productions of Playhouse Creatures, The Normal Heart, and Switzerland.
In the future Australia, Rachel Sekerov (Zoe Swan) is a Conference Stress Consultant: Swan says she's really an "escort", another euphemism.
"She starts off very naive, but she doesn't know she's naive. In this world everything is very controlled, very institutionalised, you have to play by the rules."
It's an enclosed, denatured world - "She's never seen the real sky, or trees."
And only about 5 per cent of the population have jobs: everyone else is permanently hooked into a kind of virtual reality.
One of Rachel's clients, the poet Sandor Voss (Michael Cooper), visits her.
In this world, a "poet" is not a creative writer, but someone who researches poetry in the archives that contain what's left of history and culture.
Sandor isn't just there for the obvious reason - he has real feelings for Rachel and something he wants to share with her.
He tells her about how the world used to be, something he's discovered from the archives.
"He starts opening [Rachel] up to the way we live now, in 2019."
And when something happens that mean the "poets" will be de-listed, she's inspired to help Sandor try to change the world.
Anna and Rachel are struggling to survive in similar circumstances and have a mysterious spiritual connection across the centuries.
Swan has been acting in Canberra for several years.
Her shows have included Trelawney of the "Wells", A View from the Bridge and Kismet.
Swan says The Woman in the Window is all too relevant in an era of budget cuts and funding cuts.
"What would happen if the arts were taken away?"
"'I'm a direct descendant of Genghis Khan and a Tartar princess. I felt this kind of exciting connection [to the play] based on that.- Karen Vickery
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