Soviet socialist realism is frequently constructed as the death knell of the Russian avant-garde. The combination of vague instructions (mainly concerning the required effect of the work, rather than its formal construction) with severe consequences for non-compliance restricted the appetite for experimentation amongst Soviet writers of the socialist realist era. This article considers the relationship between avant-garde technique and the socialist realist project through a case study of one of the earliest socialist realist plays, Nikolai Pogodin’s Aristocrats (1934–5). Through analysis of the temporal aesthetic underwriting Pogodin’s play, the article explores how avant-garde approaches to temporality continue to influence post-avant-garde play-texts, suggesting a model for the theatrical transitions that occur at the avant-garde hinterlands. Finally, it turns to the production of Pogodin’s play under Nikolai Okhlopkov at the Realistic Theatre and his use of the vortex form as a scenographic idiom. The article concludes by arguing that these hinterland texts, where avant-garde technique serves socialist realist intentions, form a vital moment in understanding how a legacy for Russian avant-garde practice can be defined.