Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker takes American writer Kathy Acker’s original concept of sexuality in New York and explores the idea and practise of sex within a dictatorship. Belarus, the last European country to experience an oppressive regime under Lukashenko, is still reeling from such totalitarian control. Double standards are rife, especially in the capital city Minsk, where lap dancers walk a fine line between being dubbed ‘erotic’ (an acceptable practice) and ‘pornographic’ (an illegal practice), and prostitutes are employed to clear the streets of snow. On the flip side, gay pride marches are banned, with defiant marchers locked up to await their (very bloody) fate.

So far, so graphic. Many of the incidents described above are enacted with painstaking accuracy, which at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. Yet the play, and each of its characters, still denotes a fond attachment to the country, its traditions and battle scars. If scars are sexy, then Minsk is the sexiest city in the world: “There is nothing here for me”, one character muses, “and yet I can’t leave.”

Belarus Free Theatre have taken an imaginative, provoking and often very heartwarming approach to this text (provided by the cast and directed with aplomb by Vladimir Shcherban, who certainly does not shy away from capturing the more difficult themes).

The actors create a plethora of scenarios, using their bodies and basic props to ingeniously evoke particular images and a peppering of realistic sound effects. Coloured balloons, for instance, are blown up and held in the actors’ mouths, bobbed about and popped to evoke the sound of gunshot. Batons, brooms, chairs and a whip are also used to great effect, enhancing the action and reinforcing the fast-paced dialogue.

The actors, in true Brechtian style, adjust the set, and themselves, on stage and a microphone is used to denote whose story is being told in the series of vignettes that unfold. The final scene, however, sees all the actors briefly and frankly depict their relationship to Minsk, from those who never wanted to leave, to those who can never go back. This is perhaps the most moving aspect of the show, due to its frankness and realism. The Belarusian folksong that echoes throughout is a constant reminder of the actors’ nostalgia for a place that they love to hate, or hate to love.