Soho Theatre, London (*****)
Belarus Free Theatre are incomparable. I’ve seen BFT’s work before but nothing quite like this, their latest.
Certainly not a show for the faint-hearted, no British company can bring the same intellectual, emotional and political intensity to their work, living as we do in a relatively `free’ country (I use the word carefully). The art which BFT – split between asylum in London and performing clandestinely at home in Minsk, in Belarus – create is testimony to the dangers faced by dissident artists every day. They live to perform and for the freedom to express – something we take all too easily for granted here.
It is this political reality that gives their work its unmatchable integrity. If it was just that, it would be enough. But in Burning Doors, which features Maria Alyokhina, one of the Pussy Riot punk band members whose performance in a Moscow cathedral became a cause celebre and landed them in prison, it is also the level of artistry and commitment that raises them above the norm.
Burning Doors is a theatrical homage to resistance, a dominant BFT theme that here takes its inspiration from three intensely brave, imprisoned artists: Russian `actionist’ Petr Pavlensky (what he does to his body in solidarity and `artistic’ resistance is unbearable to witness never mind withstand), Ukranian film-maker Oleg Sentsov and Maria Alyokhina.
Snatches of their speeches are interwoven with quotes from Dostoevsky, Foucault and the iconography of painter Egon Schiele. Mixed in with video, song, aerial and choreographic movement, it’s a mixture that culminates in a climax of harrowing endurance.
If you want to see a symbol of the human spirit overcoming the worst that can be thrown at it, watch as Andrei Urazau swipes repetitively at a ducking and twisting Siarhei Kvachonak until at the end, Kvachonak remains standing, defiant, body glistening with sweat – just the most extraordinary in a series of gut-wrenching sequences.
Violent, graphic and bitterly satirical, this is a show Artaud would have recognised – shocking in its truth, its style of representation and a wake-up call as much to us here as life under Putin’s Russia and its satellite neighbours. BFT and Burning Doors are magnificent.
Written by Nicolai Khalezin
Devised and performed by Belarus Free Theatre,
Performers, Devisers & Co-Creators:
Guest Performer & Collaborator:
Written by Nicolai Khalezin
Directed by: Nicolai Khalezin in partnership with Natalia Kaliada
Dramaturgy by: Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada
Original testimony by Maria Alyokhina
Original Score on Drums:Alexander Lyulakin (drummer with the bank Boombox (Ukraine)
Choreographic & Rehearsal Director: Bridget Fiske
Co-Choreographi Director: Maryia Sazonava
Acting Coach & Co-Rehearsal director: Maryna Yurevich
Stage Design: Nicolai Khalezin
Lighting & Video Design: Joshua Pharo
Sound Designer & Additional Music: Richard Hammarton
Created in partnership with ArtReach as part of Journeys Festival International; Co-commissioned by Arts Centre Melbourne, Developed at Falmouth University’s Academy of Music and Theatre Arts (AMATA)