Three Concepts of Liberty


Audio drama: 20 min 

Poets Nikolai Gumilev (left) and Anna Akhmatova (right) with son Lev, courtesy RIA Novosti

Oxford, May 1968. The naturalised British philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin, recalls the recent death of his friend, the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Making an informal, private vigil for her, he addresses Anna in his head, and is astonished to hear her speaking back. But the lyrical rhyming dialogue that ensues is not what either of them might have expected whilst Anna was alive. 

Recalling his celebrated, clandestine meeting with Akhmatova in her Leningrad flat in 1945, Berlin is forced to examine his conscience, and the compromises he has made to achieve his fame. The play examines how Akhmatova wrote great, witheringly honest poetry, which bore witness to her peoples’ suffering, despite herself living under Stalin’s bloodthirsty dictatorship, with its blanket ban on free speech. 

Exploring these writers’ complementary and clashing conceptions of creative and political freedom, this speculative historical fiction also probes the ambiguities and stresses of Platonic friendship. But above all, it asserts how our ‘shadow selves’ -significant, problematic others that can provoke us to new heights- are all around us, and within us, both in flesh and spirit.