Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker – Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol
To a lot of people, Minsk is where Phoebe’s scientist boyfriend goes off to work in an early series of Friends. The more politically aware may know more. As a collective, the audience at the Tobacco Factory Theatre are given the inside look. A scars ‘n’ all tour of the highs and lows of the Belarus capital and what life is like on the inside.
Belarus Free Theatre wants us to believe that Minsk is sexy. They are asking us to listen, watch, learn and dig deep. Dig beneath the ugly grey buildings, the nasty grey weather and the oppression that is slowly strangling the city.
Our first introduction to the cast sets the goal posts for the extremes we will experience. Each one has something to offer, from waving a flag, playing the flute or just clapping their hands. In time they each get carted off in a violent struggle. Even the discreet and the sly get taken in the end. There is no escape.
Belarus Free Theatre are physical both in body and voice. They fill the theatre with their cries, their songs and their stories. Each one has a story to tell and each story has a sting in its tail. The official stamp of approval over what is erotic. The thinly veiled propaganda of City Day. The terrorist attack on the newly built railway station. Each chapter gives the audience an insight into another grim reality.
Another consequence of oppression is lack of education. Not just the school based kind – the fancy library is a haven for ‘housing sinners’ – but a general knowledge that we so often take for granted. Not knowing who Paul McCartney is in a lineup of the Beatles stands tall with the most horrific of stories. Herein lies the problem. We are the lucky ones. We know this and we are told early on. It’s screamed at us from all corners of the theatre. The revelation however is the light to balance their shade. The true beauty, the real power of this piece comes at the end and there are no gimmicks, no tricks in sight. Just love. Plain and simple and truly heart felt.
Belarus Free Theatre has created a piece that is not quite verbatim and more engaging than just purely being educational. What you learn about them as individuals, who they are and what they do is the true discovery. They are passionate. They are human. They deserve to be celebrated.
Shane Morgan, The Public Reviews, 26 May 2012