Traverse-commissioned play White Rose tells story of Lily Litvak

Re-staging of Peter Arnott's 1985 play about female Soviet World War II fighter pilot

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Traverse-commissioned play White Rose tells story of Lily Litvak

Photo: Thomas Ogilvie

In 1985 the Traverse Theatre staged an intriguing studio play by an emerging young playwright by the name of Peter Arnott. White Rose told the story of Lily Litvak, World War II fighter pilot and decorated Hero of the Soviet Union. Nicknamed 'The White Rose of Stalingrad', the Jewish pilot was one of a thousand outstanding female fighter aces in the Red Air Force.

Arnott has since become one of Scotland's best known dramatists, with works including The Breathing House and The Infamous Brothers Davenport. It is, he says, 'weird and exciting' to see his early play being revived by Borders-based touring theatre company Firebrand.

The author remembers being commissioned by the Traverse to write a play for three actors to be performed during the Edinburgh Festival of 1985. 'I wanted it to be a Second World War play,' he says. 'It was the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. Also, in Britain at the time, we had the peace movement and the miners' strike, both of which had very strong women's groups.'

As he looked around for a subject which connected World War II with the Cold War and the female political activism of the mid-80s, Arnott came across Bruce Myles's book Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in World War II. He was fascinated, not only by the heroism and brilliance of Litvak and her colleagues, but also by the politics of writing a play, in 1985, about a heroine of a former ally which was now an enemy.

In a strange way, 2013 is an equally relevant time to perform the play, Arnott suggests. 'Now we have two Cold Wars. One with Islamism and a new one with Putin's Russia.'

Touring Scotland, Tue 21 Feb--Sat 16 Mar.

White Rose

The story of Lily Litvak, a Russian fighter pilot during WWII and one of the thousand women who volunteered for the Red Air Force. Peter Arnott's tale of patriotism, warfare and love, with Litvak, the 'White Rose of Stalingrad', at its heart.

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