Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker

Thu 31st May – Sat 2nd June 2012

reviews

Dewei Jia

at 00:20 on 1st Jun 2012

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If scars are sexy, Minsk is the sexiest city in the world, they say. The Belarus Free Theatre is trying to prove that Minsk is sexy. But what is sexy in their definition? Scars, strip-club dancers, unbridled sexuality, perhaps freedom and openness.

In the attempt to explore Minsk’s sexuality, the underground world of Minsk presents itself in front of you. The brutal repression and suppression of sex makes the underground world an ideal place for temporary release. It is that violence and relentless indulgence in sex and alcohol which releases the people from their day-time cage.

In order appreciate such a piece, you really have to understand the politics in Belarus. Media censorship and appalling human rights status is an urgent social problem. In the opening of the play, a man unfolds a Belarusian flag, but is bundled off buy security guards. A serial of arrests await a man unfolded a LGBT rainbow flag, a man applauded in public, a man just playing his flute, and even more ridiculously, a man looking at his watch twice.

In this context, it is obvious why many of the characters are arrested and exiled. The acclamation of basic freedom, which we have always taken for granted for, is so precious for the first time in the life.

The clumsiness and lack of pretension with which the aesthetic is treated remind the audience that the characters are not sophisticated, refined, stars of the theatre, but real people. They bring their own staggeringly bitter confrontation to the audience.

But their dreams are so simple: just love and the freedom to love.

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Thomas Stell

at 02:41 on 1st Jun 2012

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'Minsk, 2011' is the extraordinary portrait of a city, of its government and its people, its characters and its prostitutes, its charms. The Belarusian Free Theatre, who have devised and perform the piece, are the ambassadors of this city, persecuted for their work, and in their own country performing only in secret.

Belarus has one of the most overtly authoritarian governments in Europe. In this production we are introduced to its capital in a series of loosely connected episodes, beginning with the attacks – skinheads beat and carry off two flag waving activists, a flute-player, and an equally inoffensive bystander. A few scenes later we are in a bar frequented by the sort of characters one meets more often in Isherwood’s Berlin novels than in real life. Transsexuals, streetwalkers, old and young drug-takers proliferate in a world of night-clubs hiding from the homophobic attacks the police do nothing to prevent. There follow stories of arrests, workers drunk on stuff made easily available by the state to keep them quiet, political rallies and demonstrations, a strip club and a terrorist attack.

There are few characters who are named, let alone whom we see for a long time, though when they appear they always inspire our sympathy. There is the Roman Catholic pastoral worker caught by the police or Katya, who wants to become a dancer in a club but will be taken to hospital for anorexia. But this episodic style does no harm to the piece. Rather it should be seen as a kind of partly acted storytelling, of which it is a first rate example. On a bare stage and in an unsentimental and expository style, the cast present dozens of characters. There is a lot of direct narration and little dialogue – in fact actors often take it in turns to deliver their speeches from the microphone kept centre stage throughout the evening, but the clarity of diction and expression in the words, and the often grotesque and exaggerated gestures, to create prostitutes, thugs and debauchees, mean the script being in Russian is never a problem.

Though at times the ideas of the play are confusing, a link between oppression and eroticism is dwelt on but never becomes clearer than a vague sadomasochism, the work’s symbols can be very moving. The treatment of a naked actress standing for the tortured but often ignored country is a remarkable coup de théatre. But perhaps most moving of all is the evocation of the city itself. “Minsk is right there” – it is a mythic presence which its citizens cannot forget or even really leave. That is why the actors’ own stories told simply and not in any character at the play’s end are so affecting.

'Minsk, 2011' is not a piece of virtuosic theatre. Indeed it may be right to say it is only half theatre, being half a documentary in monologues, but it is not trite or hectoring in the way most work of that sort is, and it does not preach. It is the best of its kind.

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Comments

William Winter; 1st Jun 2012; 21:54:54

This production was amazing, at times you didn't know whether to laugh at the situations happening on stage, or cry knowing that it is actually happening in life. The reviews above layout the play well, however, the cast, for me portray somethingelse, they love their city, and their country, but the regime is stifling the life out of it, this play is a passionate plea for help, where if The Belarus Free Theatre had performed this production in Minsk, the cast and crew would have been put directly into prison. As the review states above, the end of the play sums everything up, "Minsk is right there", they all want to leave yet they all have to return, the look in Yana Rusakevich's eyes when she says she has to go back because her daughter is there, certainly brings your heart into your throat. A wonderful production hopefully they will be back in Oxford with more theatre, I would have liked to have seen their King Lear. Well done to all involved certainly one to go and see. 5stars from me

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