Belarus Free Theatre is offering audiences the chance to take a tour through Minsk in its new show at the Young Vic and, as proved very literally on press night, it’s not a tour that some Belarusians would want seen.
The curtain call protest by one man as the rest of the audience cheered the courageous theatre company’s work seemed to cement everything that had come in the 90 minutes beforehand. In a series of episodic scenes, linked only by the subject matter and not by any storyline as such, the group of performers showed protests and personal beliefs silenced one by one by various violent and oppressive means.
Based on true events and stories, Minsk 2011 A Reply To Kathy Acker centres mainly on the capital’s view of sexuality and asexuality. As one performer says, if women think scars are sexy, then Minsk is the sexiest city in the world, before proceeding to mark in red highlighter the scars he received at the hands of the authorities while in custody.
The production moves through personal relationships to clubs and banned gay pride marches, dealing explicitly with the subject and the violence that often ensues. The hypocrisy of the government is shown in one powerful scene that sees a government official condemn pornography and indecency before signing licensing papers to a lap dancing club following a very personal lap dance.
A completely devised piece, the production uses videos and minimal props creatively to create an in your face, affecting, intense experience. Uniformed costumes match the often uniformed movement which varies from tightly planned choreography performed with military precision to more chaotic avant-garde performances. One emotionally charged routine shows prostitutes forced to sweep snow from the streets in a quietly poignant scene.
Minsk 2011 is like a love letter written in an abusive relationship. It’s shocking, but shows, perhaps most interestingly of all, the way people are pulled back in, time and time again; the final scene showing a group of people returning to a city that they describe as sucking all the energy out of them but that they cannot get out of their systems.