Inside Pussy-Riot , presented by Bird&Carrot, Les Enfants, Terribles and Nadya Tolokonnikova
Saatchi Gallery, few minutes walk from Sloane Square Station until December 24th, 2017
Running time 1 hour, no interval, running frequently 7 days a week after 11:15 a.m. with late nights on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Review: Veronica Stein, 17 November 2017-11-18
A chilling event recreated at first hand
Upon arriving at the Saatchi Gallery in anticipation of Inside Pussy Riot , you are given a quick survey and contract: what what is your name and age, what do you stand for, please cooperate with the performers, etc. — and then you are given a balaclava.
Riot seeks to immerse the viewer in the story of Nadya Tolokonnikova, who as a member of Pussy Riot played less than 60 seconds of a song on the altar of a Moscow Cathedral before being arrested and displaced to a penal colony for two years. Starting in a waiting room we can feel the inkling of corrupt authority emerging as a significant theme, which is only augmented when we step into a church of dictatorial design: the objects of worship are Mao, Putin, others of this ilk, and to be expected, Trump. As protesters, we are immediately arrested, in part for “hurting the feelings of the patriarch”. And so Riot continues, through to trial and imprisonment, calling for us to not only cherish our freedom of speech, but use it to create the change we want to see.
The performance is meticulously designed in a haze of pastels and dystopian schtick, with performers’ warden-like uniforms and office more closely resembling those of a candyfloss 1984 than anything we might have seen on Orange is the New Black . This mingles spectacularly well with the circus-like makeup and absurdity seen throughout, effectively mirroring the Russian political climate and media.. In perhaps my favorite exemplar of the rampant cleverness of Riot , our jury is none other than a bobblehead: there is only one possible verdict, and guilt is a foregone conclusion.
And Riot is very clever. I found myself often considering how thoughtfully the experience was produced, from the dialogue to the aesthetic elements- even the survey we completed at the beginning was utilized to personalize the experience. When the unclearly motivated ending came around, I wasn’t irritated or left wondering why. I suppose I just acknowledged that Tolokonnikova’s story just hasn’t ended yet.
Despite the cohesion of Riot , I can’t help but feel that the stylistic elements sometimes betrayed the more substantial. Caricatured tyrants, no matter how well acted (and they are), can allow an audience to distance themselves from the regime in question, and surely utilizing the modern feminist definition of ‘fragile masculinity’ to delineate our crime (“hurting the patriarch’s feelings” mitigates the scope of the regime in question’s ideological and totalitarian might? I can’t help but wonder if the whole experience might have been more powerful if perhaps everything was as realistic as possible and connected fully to Russia and the true events of Pussy Riot’s punk provocateur legacy. As theatremakers too often forget, we can be trusted to recognize our humanity in what isn’t our own history- distancing us altogether to a fictional world won’t necessarily make anything more universal than the alternative.
Though the immersion fell through once or twice, the experiential nature of Inside Pussy Riot was largely successful in no small part because of the dedicated and skilled performers. Several key moments that blurred the perception of what was theatrical and what was real leave me confident that Les Enfants Terribles are learning to perfect Immersive Theatre- and ask us the right questions along the way.
Performers: Roseanna Brear, Tamsin Dowsett, Alex Gilbert, Cassandra Hercules, Tamaira Hesson, Sara Hooppell, Jenny Horsthuis, Alice Ivor, Mollie Lambert, Rosalind McAndrew, Charlotte Newton John, Asha Reid, Fleur Roth, Beatrice Scirocchi, Marah Stafford, Emily Stott, Elena Voce, Rebecca Ward
Director: Christa Harris
Writer: Oliver Lansley
Associate Writer: Nadya Tolokonnikova Designer: Zoe Koperski