June 19th, 2012


Белорусский Свободный театр / The Times / review

© kilgor_trautt

Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker at Young Vic, review


A forlorn flurry of snow; cleaners in headscarves bent over brooms; a row of pale faces on a rattling subway train; dancers in black underwear, as skinny and angular as Egon Schiele’s hollow-eyed women, gyrating aggressively in strip joints. This kaleidoscopic show by Belarus Free Theatre, presented as part of LIFT 2012 and directed by Vladimir Shcherban, is a kind of brutal ballet in which images and memories from a country in the stranglehold of Lukashenko’s dictatorship collide. It’s provocative, confrontational, spiked with dark wit, scalding in its grief and rage; but in its irrepressible hope, it also soars.

The play is a companion piece to an earlier show, New York in 1979, itself adapted from a work on socio-sexuality by Kathy Acker, the radical postmodern American writer and feminist. Shcherban’s raucous, freewheeling staging gleefully embraces the punk spirit of Acker’s writing to explore life in the Belarussian capital under a stifling authoritarianism that can twist and proscribe desire and sensuality. Convicted prostitutes are commanded to sweep the streets after a heavy snowfall — a humiliation that turns into a scene of delirious celebration as the women, straddling men’s shoulders, swirl through the snowflakes; a Gay Pride march leads to violent arrests. A factory workers’ canteen becomes by night a wild underground club where sexual pleasure is seized hungrily, desperately, even savagely.

Meanwhile, mere eye contact in public becomes dangerous. It’s as if bodies have been commandeered and human intimacy distorted by state control — an idea that reaches a surreal and shockingly brilliant climax in a scene in which a woman describes being taken into custody by the police and having not just her fingerprints, but a print of her entire body taken. Stripped naked and daubed from head to toe in ink, she is rolled in paper until she is almost smothered — only to rip her way out, stained and defiant, and furiously brandishing a whip.

It’s fascinating, frightening and yet exhilarating, because the performers make it poignantly clear — especially in a final sequence of highly personal monologues — how much they love their home, and how ferocious is their determination to fight for its freedoms. This is theatre with true passion and purpose: wild, intense and thrillingly urgent and alive.

Sam Marlowe, The Times, 18 June 2012
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Белорусский Свободный театр / Financial Times / review

© kilgor_trautt

Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker, Young Vic, London


Political theatre can sometimes come over as an enjoyable intellectual exercise: a chance to confirm or test your views against the world portrayed on stage. Not in the case of Belarus Free Theatre. The company’s latest piece, presented as part of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), is urgent, angry and eloquent. Most striking of all, it becomes clear that it is driven by a deep affection for the performers’ native land.

Everyone on stage has been sacked, harassed or even arrested for their activities with the Belarus Free Theatre because the company speaks out against the country’s oppressive regime. Their retort is to remain creative. Here they explore repression in their capital city, Minsk, through a series of vignettes loosely depicting attitudes to sex, sexuality and the sex trade (as the title suggests, the show is a response to Kathy Acker’s writing about sexuality in New York).

Directed by Vladimir Shcherban, the show unfolds like a revue, a succession of vivid physical scenes that speak of double standards, secrecy and fear. So we see the workers’ canteen that is transformed late at night into a secret, wild and gaudy gay club. We watch as a trio of women slip out of their flowered overalls (the overall becomes a recurring symbol of cover-up and repression) to perform an erotic dance for an official who will formally declare whether their work is officially erotic or illegally pornographic. There’s a scene about a gay pride march that was brutally broken up, another about ambulances that are in fact disguised police wagons, a third about the cheap wine that offers oblivion.

Some scenes are extraordinarily powerful in their simplicity. In an account of the 2011 explosion on the Minsk underground system, one actor recalls the spilt bags of sugar soaking up blood from the dead and wounded, as she walks around the stage pouring sugar from a bag. And the show opens with one performer after another attempting to reach a microphone to wave a flag, speak or simply clap, and being bundled off the stage before they can make their point: a succinct, witty depiction of censorship.

Most telling of all, however, is the final scene, when members of the company, to the accompaniment of a Belarusian folk song, take turns to talk of their personal relationship with their city and their love for the place: a moving finale delivered more in sorrow than in anger.

Sarah Hemming, Financial Times, June 19, 2012


Во время нынешнего футбольного чемпионата я как-то неожиданно переел закулисной ее части. Первую половину довелось провести в Варшаве, когда ставил спектакль "Czas Kobiet", а потому от футбола появилась легкая тошнота. Вспомнил, как во время чемпионата мира 2006 года мы играли спектакли на фестивале в Висбадене, и вся Германия была в истерике от проходящего первенства. Я стоял посреди большого немецкого супермаркета, выбирая какую-то ерунду, а рядом стояла пожилая немецкая пара. Мужчина посмотрел на корзину, наполненную буханками хлеба, испеченного в форме футбольных мячей, и тихо сказал жене: "Сейчас меня вырвет".

Подобное ощущение пережил, когда вошел в зал, спонтанно прилетев на свой спектакль. Все билеты были проданы, но зал был заполнен лишь наполовину. При этом, 90% находящихся в зале были женщины. В это время во Вроцлаве шел матч Польша-Чехия, в котором решалась судьба польской сборной.

Сегодня чемпионат перешел в финальную фазу, и у меня вернулось ощущение драматургической остроты, которое не отпускает до тех пор, пока финальный матч не отыграет "разрешенный аккорд". Пары в четвертьфинале сложились такие:

Чехия — Португалия
Испания — Франция
Германия — Греция
Англия — Италия

По моим прикидкам полуфиналы должны выглядеть так: Португалия - Испания и Германия - Англия. Надеюсь не ошибиться, поскольку такой расклад мне был бы крайне интересен -- настоящая футбольная драматургия и жесточайшее сопротивление заложены в этих парах. А пока - четвертьфинал, который может нас всех удивить своей непредсказуемостью, поскольку именно чемпионат Европы отличается алогичными сюрпризами.