Tuesday, 6 November 2012
Minsk 2011 at the Lyric Belfast
Minsk 2011, a reply to Kathy Acker by Belarus Free Theatre almost wasn't part of the Belfast Festival. As this article explains, the Belarusian authorities attempted to derange the company's production in Northern Ireland. I, for one, am pleased that the event was able to continue as planned.
I don't purport to be a political animal and I know next to nothing about Belarusian politics. It was interesting to discover then that Belarus is Europe's last dictatorship and that Belarus Free Theatre is banned within it's own country, and has been forced underground.
The show begins with people stepping forward to a microphone, but before they are able to speak, they are pulled away by a group of thugs. Eventually they don't even go to the microphone, just look at it. One is accosted for simply looking at his watch, another for clapping. These episodes, representing Belarusian censorship, set the scene for the stories which are to follow, highlighting the distrustful secretive atmosphere which exists for the people living in Minsk.
We are thrown into a variety of scenes which focus on attitudes to sexuality in Minsk. The show itself is frantic and filled with important messages, themes of violence, repression, despair and abuse sitting alongside messages of hope, a sense of home, family and the need for freedom.
The audience is assaulted by the frankness of the language, spat out with such force that at times you don't actually need to read the English subtitles to understand what the actors meant. The audience is shocked by the treatment of women, of gay men, of people meeting in groups of more than 3 people. The audience is saddened at the scene of a bomb in a station where blood is soaked up by sugar, and by the cheap alcohol which neuters the public against the regime.
The production ends positively, with a Belarusian song and stories of how much each actor loves their home, how they have children and parents there, how they are still attached to their homeland. We are reminded that it is not the country that is at fault, but it's dictator.
This play has sharp teeth, it's anger is palpable. It fights to be understood and deserves a place to be heard. I'm glad that the company made it to the Lyric Theatre as part of Belfast Festival. On reading about the harassment and arrests these young actors have gone through just to be part of Belarus Free Theatre, we're lucky to have had them here at all.