Posts Tagged ‘Belarus Free Theatre’

I visited Ukraine nine years ago, nineteen years after the break-up of the Soviet Union. It was obvious then that it was a very divided country, half looking east to Russia and half west to the EU. Who’d have thought it would be like that here six years later! Four years after my visit things came to a head with a revolution centred on Independence Square in Kiev, near to where I’d been staying for the second part of the trip. This extraordinary show recreates that revolution, five years later, under the arches at Waterloo station, named in memory of another battle almost exactly 200 years before.

Like all revolutions, this one starts with a meal, with vodka, obviously. The bonhomie lulls us into a false sense of security, with food, drink, music and dancing. Our narrator, a Canadian with some Ukrainian heritage, tells us how he found himself caught up in the revolution. The narrative is sketchy, but the atmosphere is extraordinary. Projections along two long sides of the space connect us with the real events of 2014. The small cast and audience move around the space building barricades from pallets and tyres, carrying shields, wearing flags.

The traditional music adds much to the creation of something which felt surprisingly authentic and totally engaging. Facts are projected to conclude the story with a return to reality as the cast from Ukraine, Belarus, Canada and the UK introduce themselves, including Mark & Marichka Marczyks, whose real experiences are at the heart of the piece. It’s staged by the founders of the inspirational Belarus Free Theatre, Natalia Kaliada & Nicolai Khalezin. This is thrilling theatre that must be seen and you have until 17th March to do so!

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For me, this was the-one-that-got-away in last year’s extraordinary Globe to Globe Festival; all of Shakespeare’s plays, each in a different language. There were others I missed, but this was the one I regretted missing most and I’m glad I got a second chance.

It’s only 80 minutes playing time, but it still feels like the real deal. Clearly you miss the verse, but captions giving scene synopses enable you to keep up without complete surtitles distracting you from whats happening on stage. In some ways, its a typically East European staging – radical and visceral – but there’s an edginess to Belarus Free Theatre which makes them unique.

In a brilliant opening scene, Lear distributes his kingdom as a pile of tin mugs which Regan & Goneril stuff into their skirts, revealing more than they probably should in the process. The storm is superbly played out with a polythene sheet and the minimum of water; the same sheet later provides a cover for the now naked Lear, Edgar & The Fool (played in English by Chris Bone). The final scene is as moving as I’ve ever seen it.

This extraordinary company are more used to modern drama, which makes this achievement all the more impressive, and one I’m very glad didn’t get away in the end.

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