by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada.
Young Vic (The Maria) 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 5 July 2014.
Mon-Sat7.45pm Mat Sat 2.45pm.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 June.
Theatrical beauty that enervates rather than energising.
According to which website you visit Belarus is either an island of state-controlled calm amid post-Soviet capitalist chaos or the last Stalinist dictatorship, which cannot wait to make Minsk-meat of opposition such as comes from Belarus Free Theatre – a company free in mind and spirit but under constant threat, if seen anywhere back home, of arrest, imprisonment and torture.
Unsurprisingly, this situation shaped the material of their earlier visits to London. It was forceful, sometimes brutal, sometimes bitterly comic; but, given their direct experience of what they portrayed, never voyeuristic or exploitative.
The company also showed an originality and physical inventiveness alongside their energy. But, as Christy Mahon discovered in Playboy of the Western World, you can only tell a shocking story so many times before it becomes a turn-off.
Aware of this, the Belarus troupe also acknowledge that no-one, however much they have suffered – and continue to suffer – monopolises anguish, pain and grief. So they have collected stories of others’ experiences and tell them with a grave poetical beauty.
But a glance at the company’s names indicate they now come from a far wider background than when the company began, the best part of a decade ago. They have become international – which carries dangers, as other theatre troupes have found.
There’s no longer a shared spoken language (voiceovers and screen images set scenes and tell individual stories around the actors). And by internationalising the experiences portrayed, the company become like mountaineers discovering Everest is quite crowded these days. When you set-out to portray other people’s problems in today’s theatre, you quite often have to form an orderly queue.
As beautifully composed stage images take shape to atmospheric music from the two composer-musicians, the raw energy of earlier shows, battling-out experience, is replaced by mournfully reflective melancholy. A vital immediacy and spontaneity are lost. Even the recurrent mother-and-baby image comes to seem over-obvious.
But when the continent-hopping tour touches down home, in a Belarus deeply infected by nuclear fallout from the Chernobyl explosion, it suddenly seems more urgent, elegant eloquence over others’ tribulations replaced by direct urgency and first-hand concern.
Cast: Pavel Haradnitski, Kiryl Kanstantinau, Michal Keyamo, Stephanie Pan, Francesco Petruzzelli, Jeremy Proulx, Maryia Sazonova, Nastassia Shcherbak, Philippe Spall, Andrei Urazau, Eleanor Westbrook.
Director/Designer: Nicolai Khalezin.
Composers: Arkadiy Yushin, Ignatius Sokal, Stephanie Pan.
Lighting/Video: Andrew Crofts.
Sound: David Gregory.
Movement: Bridget Fiske, Maryla Sazonova.
Costume: Stephanie Pan.
Assistant director: Nadia Brodskaya.
Additional contributions: Viktoryia Biran, Siarhei Kvachonak, Josh Coates, Franziska Haberlach, Patrick Walshe McBride.