Minsk. Where do I begin?
There has been much controversy and deception around the country of Belarus, and before this play- I knew very little about the actual people. I heard things about how in Belarus, people disappear for saying things contradictory to the states aims.
In 2005 the USA called Belarus, “the last remaining outpost of tyranny”(BBC). When walking into the Young Vic ready to see the ‘Belarus Free Theatre’ and their performance of ‘Minsk’, my preconceptions were vast; the country must be evil and the people must be damaged.
This piece is probably the most honest piece of theatre I have seen. The performers are all from Minsk, the piece is about the people in Minsk, their way of life, and the performers shared their personal stories from living there. The piece was a kind of documentary theatre, told in a kind of performance art way, in a kind of original manner, by a kind of awkward cast, creating a supremely honest telling of the circumstance and moods of the people in the city.
Belarus Free Theatre managed to guide me through the way of life of the city, not holding back in any way. They touched on the economy, the government, the underground rave scene, the sex scene, the protests, the lack of freedoms; yet still I left the Young Vic with a very warm opinion of the Belarus people- my preconceptions completely changed. The theatre did its job that day, I will never look at Belarus with a black and white attitude again, and a real empathy is in my heart for their society.
The performance itself cannot be analysed from a stick sense of theatrical ‘right and wrong’. The actors were not the best actors in the world, the movement wasn’t the best movement in the world. The actors did not speak in English, so I had to read the translations which was projected so high above the actors that when I was reading the translations I missed quite a bit of the acting- that was a shame (saying that, the fact that the piece was not spoken in English provided a really interesting dynamic in the space, and I think an entire performance could be based on this dynamic). But none of the these negatives really mattered at all, everything was done with conviction and was actually true, that made every piece of symbolism, every word uttered, extremely captivating.
I wanted to give this piece 5 stars but then…
At the end of the piece, the artistic director walked out after the actors finished their 6th curtain call, and begged us, the audience, for money, for little bits of petty cash or change that we could drop into a bucket on the way out (of which, I felt pressured ethically to give them money- so I did). I understand fringe theatre companies need money, I understand people from Belarus need support- but this theatre company has the privilege of performing at the Young Vic after receiving a Fringe First. They must be making some money, I’m sure there are a number of patrons that will be knocking on their door this year, and they will probably be asked to tour.
The begging ruined the performance for me, it made me feel like they had just created this beautiful piece to prostitute it.
Go see the piece, you’ll never see another like it and you’ll be happy you went. Support Belarus Free Theatre and the Young Vic by buying a ticket to their performance and don’t feel pressured to give them your pocket money after.
Performed at the Young Vic.