Review: RED FOREST, London, Engl

by Lynn on July 8, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Vic Theatre, London, England.

Direction, script and stage design by Nicolai Khalezin
Executive Producer, co-writer, Natalia Kaliada
Composed by Arkadiy Yushin
Video and lighting by Andrew Crofts
Sound by David Gregory
Movement and co-director, Maryia Sazonova
Performers, devisers and contributors:
Pavel Haradnitski,
Kiryl Kanstantsinau,
Michal Keyamo,
Stephanie Pan,
Francesco Petruzzelli
Jeremy Proulx
Maryia Sazonova,
Nastassia Shcherbak,
Philippe Spall
Andrei Urazau,
Eleanor Westbrook

Compelling, gut-twisting stories of displacement, fortitude in the face of tremendous challenges, and resilience.

The Story
. These are stories of disaster and displacement and how people coped, survived and endure. The company travelled the world hearing stories, songs and poems of people who shared them with them. It started with the Lakota tribe of aboriginals and how they were displaced by white settlers. I thought I heard reference of another tribe of First Nations in Canada and their problems of place and displacement along the St. Lawrence River.

There is a story of a family in Japan who are alarmed when the water from the sea started rushing from the shore and engulfed their house. They had to climb to the roof for several days until they were rescued. But then the husband went back to the house to find their beloved cat, which had survived. This of course is the tsunami that devastated part of that island.

There is a story of a terrible fire that happened in another country, also devastating and how the fireman worked tirelessly to put it out. The after effects are horrific. We figure that this is Chernobyl.

There is a story of a disaster in Sao Paulo, Brazil and again how people coped. And there is a terrifying story of a woman from Nigeria gang raped and left for dead.

The Production. The stage is divided into two large rectangular panels on the stage floor. The panel stage right is full of sand. The one stage left contains about two inches of water. A quiet voice over explains the story. A Lacota warrior prays and enacts a ceremony in the sand. This is the format. There might be a projection of where the story takes place on the back wall of the stage. The quiet voice tells the story, simply and without sentiment or emotion. It is thoughtful, spare and effective. The enactment of it is vivid and compelling.

For the story of the family who had to locate to the top of their house to save themselves from the rising waters of the tsunami, boxes are used to suggest the house. They are piled on top of each other with one being placed on the narrow end so that it is very tall on the smaller boxes. The husband and wife climb up and huddle there because it’s so narrow. Then the husband carefully climbs down to look for the family cat.

The most harrowing is the Nigerian woman. She is the only black woman in the company. I’m not sure where the story takes place, but because her attackers are white, I think this takes place in Europe. Five men surround her, threateningly. They flick at her, grab her around the waist. Finally a man lies on his back on the sand. The others pick her up by her legs and her arms so that she is in mid-air, parallel to the man, with her face and body facing down to him. Then like a human battering ram they swing her forward and back over him as they grunt and she screams. Simulated rape. When they are finished, they hold her above him, still, and she spits down on him. Then they lower her onto his body and slide her down it until her face is at his crotch, and stop pulling her for a second or two. He puts his hands on her head, suggesting a blow job, then they pull her completely pull off and leave her in the sand. The man on his back in the sand gets up and smacks a wet rag at her. The final humiliation.

Later, to suggest a helicopter, a person stands facing the audience, twirling a rope over her head with something flashing at the end of the rope. Another person twirls the rope at the side of the body, also with something flashing at the side of the body. Sound effects add to the illusion. Wonderful images.

Comment. Talk about a company with the guts of a bandit. The co—artistic directors, Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kailiada literally risk their lives to put on theatre. They have been hounded out of Belarus by the authorities for doing theatre. Nicolai Khalezin particularly has a price on his head and had to go into hiding before they both re-located to the safe haven of London.

I first saw the company at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago when they did Minsk 2011, a moving piece of theatre that detailed the trials and tribulations of doing theatre in Belarus. You could be swept off the streets by the authorities for doing something as innocent as smoking, never to be seen again.

Some of the members of the company are targeted so the company is always asking their public, as they tour, for donations to keep the company going. It is a hugely important group that illuminates the situation in Belarus as well as anywhere that has a totalitarian, regime. I would see them do anything. I’m glad it was at the Young Vic during my stint in London.

Belarus Free Theatre and Young Vic Co-production

Opened: June 20, 2014
Closed: July 5, 2014
Cast: 11; 7 men, 4 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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