Posts Tagged ‘Belarus Free Theatre’

Price of Money, The Albany 18 September

September 18, 2014


This devised show about…err…money contained the following elements:

i) scenes from ‘Plutus’ by Aristophanes;

ii)  Belarusian folk songs;

iii)  stories improvised by cast members;

iv)  musical numbers not being Belarusian folk songs:

v)  human rights abuse in Belarus;

vi)  testimony from Stéphane Hessel.

Of these, Aristophanes certainly came off best (you can’t beat a pro!), followed by the folk songs.  Certainly whoever was playing the Old Woman (as above) gave an excellent performance, though I’m not sure why Poverty was well-dressed, well-made-up, well-coiffed and generally rather attractive.  At the beginning, a lot of lines (in subtitled Russian) were shouted staccato so that I couldn’t make them out, while later on there was a chorus (in English) that seemed to be about ‘the gap’, but I couldn’t make that out either.  If you want to hear what’s going on it’s best to sit at the sides, while taking sensible precautions to avoid audience participation.

Apart from the devised show format and the weakness of much of the material, I had problems with the underlying premise.  It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but that was then and this is now.  Take Belarus, for instance.  Minsk is prominent at present as the site of negotiations between Russia and what is left of Ukraine.  Now, annexing parts of Ukraine is not going to make Russia rich–in the best case it will impoverish the country not too badly, and in the worst case it will turn it into a colony of China.  Money is not the issue.

I didn’t see any sign of the promised contribution from Ben Jonson’s The Staple Of News.

But it was all right if you like that kind of thing…


Trash Cuisine, Young Vic 1 June

June 2, 2013
Picture from sponsume

Picture from sponsume

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.

Minsk, 2011 A Reply To Kathy Acker, Young Vic 16 June

June 16, 2012


Another show I would have liked to like but couldn’t.

At the beginning, the ushers repeated No filming, no photography very insistently presumably to get us into the mood for state repression.  Then there followed a number of scenes illustrating life in Minsk:  arrest of peaceful demonstrators, official approval of an erotic dance routine, and explosion on the Metro and blood mixed with sugar, a workers’ canteen by day becoming a wild nightclub by night, the river Nemiga and its associated street (like the Fleet River in London), the sexiness of scars and how the speaker got them, Katya who wanted to avoid sex while being an erotic dancer and dies of anorexia.  That last one sounded quite Kathy Acker, but most of it was sub Vladimir Sorokin.  The argument about the authoritarian regime repressing sex which meant that everything became sexy was never really made–at least not so that I understood it–and I thought the thing fell between two stools.  On the one hand, the scenes weren’t sharply defined enough to make up a brightly-coloured mosaic–the actors were also guilty of mumbling at each other and relying on the audience reading the surtitles–while you didn’t find out enough about for instance Katya to engage with her either.

At the end, the cast recounted their own experiences from 2011 and sang a Belarusian folk song.  That was good, and moving.  And after that there followed the ‘Please put money in the bucket’ speech, traditional for British theatre and surely much more urgent here.

A special message from Belarus Free Theatre:

“We wanted to share with all of you who came to see our performance of Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker that all of our actors and team managed to get back to Belarus by different flights and trains and will get together this week to start to perform underground in Minsk.

Every night I came on stage to ask for your help so that we could continue to perform for underground Belarusian audiences. Your generous donations to our bucket collection will allow us to perform in Belarus for an entire month. We can’t wait to come back to you, to perform for you and hear your great applause that inspired us and gives us the strength to perform in the last dictatorship of Europe.”

Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, Founding Co-Artistic Directors of the Belarus Free Theatre