I went along to this preview of the new show from Belarus Free Theatre out of curiosity rather than expecting I was going to like it.
The first thing to say is that it was in the nature of a franchise, since the cast certainly included non-Belarusian actors who got to play the main (speaking!) parts. The piece itself proceeded in the familiar devised show fashion.
To start with, an introduction from a seedy compere promised us a tour of the world’s culinary delights, especially those involving meat. Then two women, apparently of East Asian and African background respectively, sung operatically a scene from Richard III before eating strawberries and cream in the guise of a Thai and a Belarusian executioner….Later on, the cast disposed as a cabaret audience lip-synched an account by Clive Stafford-Smith of an execution he had failed to prevent…
After that, a scene of a nervous impressionist doing different methods of execution was rather effective. Towards the end, Russian and Belarusian began to break in, and there followed the story of Vladislav Kovalev (executed for terrorism in 2012) with family photos projected on the back wall and movingly concluding with a Belarusian folk song.
Then a massacre of onions.
And my reaction was the same as last time: you need to stick at something you know long enough for the story to twist round and draw the audience in. Also if you attach what you are trying to say to the details of a particular episode it is too easy for the audience to hold it at a distance: We did not do that. There are surely two ways of opposing evil by way of theatre: try to change the audience so that they are less capable of evil, or you can let them go on thinking they are fine but rouse their indignation at what other people do.
I think the second was being attempted here, but there were too many and disparate other people for it to be effective. In the final analysis, it was neither a universal history of infamy nor a tract about capital punishment, since we had episodes concerning Liam Holden (who was certainly brutalised, but not executed) and the Rwandan genocide, which hardly counts as a judicial proceeding.
As for the culinary devices:
London is full of chickens on electric spits,
Cooking in windows where the public pass.
This, say the chickens, is their Auschwitz,
And all poultry eaters are psychopaths.
Well, no, not really…
And see here for what I know about Russian plays in London.