In 1971, Amnesty International launched a letter-writing campaign and asked supporters to write to families of imprisoned Soviet dissidents. One of those dissidents, Slava Aidova, had a daughter, Marina, who was sent a postcard from a British couple.
The postcard was simple, it read: With love from Newbury. Berks. England. Harold and Olive. It was the start, though, of a 15-year friendship between Marina, her mother and the elderly British couple.
Forty years later, their story is being told in the form of a play entitled From Newbury with Love, which follows the story of the friendship that continued up until Harold and Olive passed away, a story of a deep, though unlikely, personal connection that helped Marina’s family psychologically survive the political climate of Russia at that time.
Life was hard for the Aidovas; Slava was sometimes allowed three-hour visits from his family, but it took two days to reach the prison, and Marina’s mother had to pay for the trip by donating blood. Marina and her mother were amazed by the letter, because England seemed an impossibly long distance away, and for anything to get through the Iron Curtain at all seemed a miracle.
When the first letter came it was like something from another planet. We were living in such a closed society that it was like getting a message from a UFO,” said Marina on a visit to London in 2006. The play travels back to a time not only associated with the Cold War, but also back before emails and texts existed and the main form of long distance communication was letter writing.
The story has been previously published as a book of the same name, but seeing the characters come alive on stage will no doubt invoke strong feelings in those familiar and unfamiliar with the story.
More information visit www.amnesty.org.uk/events