June 2nd, 2012

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King Lear / Theatre Globe / Belarus Free Theatre

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King Lear | Belarus Free Theatre


It seems apt that Belarus Free Theatre has taken on King Lear as part of the Globe to Globe season. Their current production, Minsk 2011, is a visually arresting ensemble piece which addresses the political tyranny of the company’s country, while Lear is a bleak interrogation of tyranny and power which documents the painful unravelling of a political dynasty. Furthermore, it is full of striking tableaux – Lear raging against the storm, Gloucester’s eye-gouging – which play to the company’s strengths. These parallels, between Belarus Free Theatre’s artistic concerns and Shakespeare’s play, have sparked into life a bold, irreverent and provocative interpretation of Lear.

Aleh Sidorchik’s Lear is an aggressive, domineering ruler who emerges from the central doors onto the stage shouting and gesticulating at his subjects. He’s wearing a long black leather coat and an oversized armoured glove; the former evoking a sinister secret police goon, the latter a nod to history’s ‘iron fist’ rulers. Initially a symbol of brute strength, Lear’s glove became the marker of his political and personal decline. In the storm scenes, when Lear’s mental state is at its most fragile, he places the glove on Tom of Bedlam’s head: the swaggering accessory of power now just a rather silly-looking coxcomb. At the end of the play, Lear and Cordelia’s captors paw the king’s goods; one closely inspects the glove only to laugh and casually toss it aside. As the ‘iron fist’ becomes worthless junk, so a mighty king is transformed into a ‘foolish, fond, old man’.

The company’s ability to make beautiful and witty theatre through ensemble and individual physicality, so evident in Minsk 2011, is also on display here. Once Goneril and Regan have passed their father’s love test they are rewarded with their share of the kingdom: from a large wheelbarrow of sodden earth, Lear shovels healthy portions into the sisters’ skirts. Clasping their gift of soil close to their bodies, they waddle around the stage like heavily pregnant women. Lear’s childless daughters bear the only family legacy, his kingdom, a large mound of dirt. The storm scenes are a DIY tour-de-force involving a large majority of the company making noise and frantic movements with the help of a large blue tarpaulin, a bowl of water and a piano. In this way they convey both a sense of the stormy weather and Lear’s fractured, confused mind.

As the production draws to its close, Goneril and Regan’s rule proves chilling and sinister when contrasted with Lear’s blustering presence. Before Gloucester’s eye-gouging, the sisters walk slowly around the stage, stopping a few times to whisper conspiratorially to one another. The violent course of action which was to follow is set upon with calm, cold indifference. Lear and Cordelia’s guards cover their faces with black mesh, transforming into a gang of violent thugs. They strangle Cordelia with her pearl necklace, her dress slipping off in the struggle, and nonchalantly throw her half-naked body aside when they have finished. The political violence is never excessive; instead, and more frighteningly, it is subtle, sudden and vicious. A theatre troupe born from political struggle, the company inflect Shakespeare’s play with a sense of modern terror and oppression.

Some aspects of their production come off less successfully. The oddly sexualised behaviour of many of the characters – Lear intensely French kissing his daughters, Goneril and Regan doing the same with one another - feels gratuitous. The company also don’t always engage with the audience in the way that a space like the Globe seems to demand, and some scenes fall flat as a result, despite the strength with which they are played. Despite this, and as with so many productions in the Globe to Globe season, the company prove that the loss of Shakespeare’s language need not be a hindrance to conveying the full emotional and, indeed, political force of his plays.

Sarah Dustagheer, Exeunt, 30 May 2012

Minsk - 2011: A Reply To Kathy Acker / Buzz / stage rewiew

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Minsk - 2011: A Reply To Kathy Acker | Stage rewiew

south wales culture


I learnt something last night: in Belarus you can be arrested for clapping. In recent months peaceful protesters have been taking to the streets of Europe’s last dictatorship and clapping en masse to remind the state of their existence. That this innocuous act can elicit such an oppressive response highlights how politically courageous the Belarus Free Theatre – whose productions must be performed in secret in their homeland – are in committing these acts of state persecution to the stage.

Told through a series of vignettes illustrating snapshots of life in the Belarusian capital, we are given a shocking and devastatingly frank introduction to the city’s monochrome streets and its pulsating, iridescent underbelly. Government hypocrisy, homophobia, terrorism and poverty are refracted through a prism of repressed sexuality and juxtaposed with a muzzled city where even graffiti is painted over within hours of its appearance.

The nudity is not salacious but a vital part of the narrative; a meditation on how sexuality, as a vital facet of self-expression which residents of Minsk are denied, can be politicised. The penultimate scene, in which a naked Yana Rusakevich – a standout performer in a company of accomplished actors – is covered in black paint and wrapped in paper, is a powerful symbol of female repression.

Not only are the portrayed events true, but also the real life experiences of the actors themselves; some of whom are political exiles. Some parts felt slightly over dramatised – an unnecessary step seeing as the most affecting were those in which the protagonists simply spoke about their experiences. But if the actors feel the need to over embellish an already distressing narrative, it is because Minsk, 2011 is as much a plea as it is a play; a desperate, squealing petition to an apathetic Europe that refuses to acknowledge the violation of civil rights on its own doorstep.

In a Cardiffian theatrical landscape dominated by insipid touring West End productions, Minsk 2011 is a fresh, pungent polemic delivered with urgency and a wry Slavonic humour.

Alice Hughes, Buzz, 29 May 2012

Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker / Tobacco Factory / Bristol

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Sex and violence: political theatre from Europe’s last dictatorship


Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker. Tobacco Factory, Bristol.

It’s political, it’s aggressive and it’s all in Russian. Fuel and Belarus Free Theatre’s production of Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker is unlikely to be big at the box office. Which is a pity, as in some ways it’s closer to Cabaret or even Slava’s Snow Show in some of its content and style. As a series of stories of the disenfranchised inhabitants of an urban underground Minsk mixed with performance art and street theatre it’s highly entertaining. Except that is for one aspect: the anger of the performers at their nation’s barbaric treatment of those in favour of liberation is so powerful that you feel extremely uneasy. At times it’s almost too much to take with its beatings, rapes and violence.

Part performance art, part physical theatre, part poetry, part song and film, the multi-media show features sketches, stories and anecdotes about life for those battling the iron fist of Alexander Lukashenko’s semi-Stalinist state. The in-your-face show is all in Russian so the audience’s attention flicks between the sub-titles on the back wall and the body language of the actors. As a result much of the subtlety and humour is lost in translation – although the main thrust and emotion of the devised didactic denouncement of their Government remains intact.

The cast of nine each have a personal story to tell which at times conveys a bitter-sweet tone and in the final scene an affectionate longing for the city of grey concrete. It’s a show that uses sound, texture, basic props and simple colours very effectively. A red carpet is a river, a covering, a memorial stone and yes, a red carpet as well. Nine red chairs are utilised in almost every scene including a delightful ride along the city’s metro – until a terrorist explosion rips the made-out-of-chairs carriage apart.

Directed by Vladimir Shcherban and driven by Natalia Kalaiada and Nicolai Khalezin the harrowing production that includes a stunning nude finale pays tribute to the 1970s New York Jewish punk novelist Kathy Acker in its desire to redefine sexuality through political and cultural protest. You won’t fall asleep and you’ll come out with a much greater knowledge of Europe’s last dictatorship.

Harry Mottram, Theatrewag, 24 May 2012

Марк Равенхилл (из цикла "Человек пишущий")

Лондон. Англия. 18 июня 2011   |   photo © kilgor_trautt

Наше знакомство с Марком Равенхиллом выглядело несколько странно. Мы участвовали в фестивале "Новые пьесы из Европы" в Висбадене со спектаклем "Белливуд", а Марк представлял там свой "Продукт". Поздно вечером, после показа своего спектакля, мы с Наташей шли в фестивальную палатку, чтобы выпить по бокалу "рислинга". Около нее, сгрупировавшись вокруг столика, стояли несколько человек. Среди них -- наша подруга, легендарный польский переводчик, Малгожата Семил. Она окликнула нас, и, представив, сказала: "Познакомьтесь, это Марк". Я пожал ему руку, и побежал в палатку за вином. Следом за мной туда вошла Наташа и спросила: "Ты что, не понял, что это Марк Равенхилл?". Я оторопел. На тот момент Марк был для меня легендой, театральным "небожителем", "Че Геварой" современной драматургии...

Марк стал театральной легендой рано -- в 29 лет. В таком возрасте драматурги чаще всего даже не начинают карьеру -- это возраст драматургического младенчества. Его пьеса Shopping and Fucking взорвала театральный Лондон, поместив в ряд не менее легендарных драматургов, сформировавших направление New writing: Сара Кейн, Кэрил Черчилл, Мартин Макдонах... Марка можно без натяжки назвать "крестным отцом" Свободного театра. В 2004 году Володя Щербань поставил спектакль "Откровенные полароидные снимки", который прошел всего один раз, но именно он пробудил наш интерес к Щербаню, как к человеку свободному, ищущему новизны, внимательно отслеживающего современный театральный процесс. Собственно, запуск проката Свободного театра начался со следующего обращения Володи к New writing -- пьесы "Психоз 4.48" Сары Кейн. А Марк неожиданно для нас выступил в новой роли -- журналиста.

После сенсационных гастролей Свободного театра в 2008 году, газета The Guardian признала их одним из главных театральных событий лондонского театрального сезона. Редакция попросила Равенхилла поехать в Минск и написать материал для итогового новогоднего номера газеты. Марк провел в Минске неделю: смотрел спектакли, вручал гран-при драматургического конкурса Свободный театр Леше Щербаку, пил белорусское шампанское, ел драники... Наши отношения изменились, перейдя в разряд дружеских.

У Марка есть черта характера, которая является для меня образцовой: он постоянно учится. Учится, при этом оставаясь легендой современной драматургии. Однажды Наташа попросила его перезвонить, Марк ответил смс: "Перезвоню позже, я на семинаре - учусь писать комедии". Написал человек, которого приглашают к себе преподавать самые престижные университеты мира и драматургические семинары. Его новые пьесы не похожи одна на другую: Марк ищет новые смыслы, новые формы, и новую волну "newwriting", чтобы снова закрепиться на театральной вершине, с которой, по-сути, и не спускался за все время своей карьеры.

Сейчас мы живем с ним в одном городе, дружим. Он все больше открывается -- какими-то новыми чертами характера: потрясающим чувством юмора, вспышками душевности, преданностью по отношению к своему партнеру, к своим друзьям.