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Belarus Free Theatre

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Belarus Free Theatre were formed in Belarus – Europe's last surviving dictatorship – in response to the state’s culture of censorship and ideological pressure. Because of their work with the company, its members are barred from working within the state-run theatre, and several have experienced maltreatment at the hands of the authorities as a consequence of their political activities.

This show, still in development with British theatre company Fuel, takes the form of a series of episodes illustrating life in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. They paint a bleak picture, but the scenes that use humour to flag up the idiosyncrasies of living in a dictatorship are by far the most compelling: a workers' canteen turns into an LGBT club by night, neither clientele aware of the building's alternative usage; a strip club gets approval from a government inspector; the imaginative nicknames of the country's most popular cheap booze are reeled off.

The company give some fine performances, but too often the subtlety of their character portrayals are lost in the broad brush strokes of the show's choreographed, physical theatre moments. This makes for affecting theatre, but ultimately left me longing for a more nuanced production style. Having seen the company's last show, however, the funny, anarchic and powerful Eurepica. Challenge., I'm confident that the current production's flaws will be ironed out by the ongoing development process. This show isn't perfect, but it's stirring stuff and, given the nature of the subject matter, an important one to see.


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