MINSK, 2011: A REPLY TO KATHY ACKER | STAGE REVIEW
Sherman Cymru, Cardiff
Tues 29 May
words: ALICE HUGHES
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.