This week, ArtReach were proud to premiere Belarus Free Theatre’s Burning Doors, at Curve, Leicester, as part of Journeys Festival International. In this thrilling new show, the refugee theatre company share the stories of three persecuted artists, who refuse for their artistic expression to be silenced by the state. It is a masterful and visual exploration of freedom and oppression that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about - burning into my consciousness.
Using surtitles, the audience are exposed to a world-wind script of intellectualism and poetry, complimented by slick choreography and exhausting physicality, that had a touch of Berkovian comedy in places.
Burning Doors is punctuated markedly by some fun-poking at the audience, and feels like a play in two halves. The audience is taken through the stories of Maria Alyokhina's experiences, using subtle reiterations of a story of a moth, the internalised torture from a female perspective, and from the outside perspective of the media. At the mid-point the audience is involved in a 2-minute Q&A before Maria is rushed away to ‘get to another event’.
The production moves into a more visceral and physical mode, reflecting the work of Russian actionist artist Petr Pavlensky. We witness an incredible interrogation scene formed from an almost academical, unbelievably eloquent transcript from Pavlensky’s real-life cross-examination, that hit headlines last July, as he convinced his interrogator to change his views.
The final testimony is of Oleg Sentsov, Ukranian filmmaker who is currently incarcerated in Yakutsk, Russia. His story is less punctuated, less final, suggestive of his current fate, and focuses on the torturous regime he has been under.
The co-artistic directors, Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada, had clearly pushed the boundaries from a technical perspective too, reasserting their place at the forefront of contemporary theatre. Intimate and intelligent visuals were created from projection, with live-streaming of the action on stage from a birds-eye angle, reminiscent of CCTV – enhancing the feeling of surveillance. The music throughout was impactful, shifting from the operatic to the techno, that both had the potential to be used in real, ‘enhanced interrogation’. Particularly haunting was the addition of traditional Belarusian folk songs, rousingly sung by an incredibly talented cast. For me, this highlighted the human conflict that must resonate with the cast; Belarus is their identity, their culture and yet, the condemning actions of the government strains that familiar and comfortable image of a place that is ultimately, home.
Post-show discussions can occasionally be off-putting, especially after such a hard hitting show. However the post-show discussion here proved an invaluable processing tool where no one was an expert and all interpretations were valid; a genuine discussion ensued and the safety of the space created following this brutal shared experience was expertly created by the chair, Julia Farrington.
The brave direction has traits of Complicite and Simon McBurney (particularly A Dogs Heart), a little hint of Forced Entertainment but more Theatre Ad Infinitum in its style. In parts in reminded me of Fast Asbl’s The Revengers Tragedy.
Burning Doors complies the audience to confront oppression and question freedom; it is easier to be complacent in society, but how free can we ever possibly be in this complacency? Although the play was built on the stories of three individuals, the audience are exposed to systemic oppression that can only be overcome by a collective effort. When asked what she hopes will come of making this show, Maria replied ‘a change’. Days later, still thinking about the show, I’m planning what my change can be.
23 - 27 August, Curve, Leicester 0116 242 3595
10 - 12 October, Contact, Manchester 0161 274 0600
14 October, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth 023 9264 9000
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