In 2012, Belarus Free Theatre gave us a tour of Minsk. In a gimmick free exploration of the underbelly of the city some members of the company are prevented from returning to, A Reply to Kathy Acker was a passionate and heartfelt tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.
With Trash Cuisine, Belarus Free Theatre has cast their net wider to take in international acts of oppression. From Ireland through to Africa, we are introduced to individuals and communities who live in terror, are ruled by an iron fist or are victims of abuse of power and justice. These stories are told within a structure that is introduced early on in the evening. We are greeted by a master chef who tells us everything will happen within his kitchen. This transformation is one we buy into straight away. We are charmed, we are warmed up and we are on side.
This sense of coaxing and guiding doesn’t last long. What follows, bar a moment or two, is so heavy handed and laboured that any sense of empathy is drained from you whilst you are being screamed at, laden with graphic descriptions or having the frame totally broken after the curtain call by a woman underlining the fact that the evening was based on true stories. Given that the entire evening is dedicated to fact, this felt like we were being spoon fed and talked down to all at the same time.
There are some beautiful moments within the show. A couple dancing, a man walking against a tide of others, the use of Shakespeare and some magical staging all combine to allow the audience to work and use their imagination. Apart from these moments, the show lets it audience down. There is no room for the audience to move. They are bombarded, harangued and attacked. This may be the desire however the balancing act with political theatre is to raise awareness and rally whilst not being didactic.
Peter Brook wrote in The Slyness of Boredom, ‘The less one gives the imagination, the happier it is because it is a muscle that enjoys playing games’. Belarus Free Theatre gave everything and with Trash Cuisine left no room for imagination to go to work.