Belarus Free Theatre returns to the Young Vic, combining "dissident fury with exceptional theatrical imagery and eloquence"
The outlawed Belarus Free Theatre is back at the Young Vic with a kitchen cabaret of capital punishment, an executioner's song, a dance of death and an explosion of anger, flour and chopped onions.
Belarus, the small nation just to the east of Poland and Lithuania, is the last country in Europe to implement the death penalty. So the compere at the Capital Punishment café welcomes us to a cutting edge entertainment where his specials today include lethal injection, electrocution, hanging, stoning and death by firing squad.
There are two main points to the show: that these medieval, barbaric methods of extracting justice are themselves an indefensible obscenity, amounting to a violation of human rights, even the human rights of the guilty. And secondly: the guilty are often innocent, or merely inconveniently opposed to governments or dictatorships.
The stories are provided by victims and lawyers, and they are all true. One of them, that of Liam Holden, falsely convicted of killing a British paratrooper in Northern Ireland in 1971, is told as a numbers game: the hours he was held, the times he was tortured, the days spent in prison awaiting execution, the years spent in prison when the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, the date he was cleared of murder.
Another, that of two Russian boys accused of terrorism by the KGB who happened to be in the right place at the wrong time, is performed as a shocking nightmare – which it was to the mother of one of them, and to the boys themselves, who never came home. Their blood trickles down the back wall as the other actors stand in a line furiously chopping onions with machetes to the sound of a Spanish guitar.
The terror of being caught up in a prosecution you can do nothing to prevent is overwhelming in the 90-minute presentation, as is the depressing propensity we have for killing each other in large numbers anyway. The carnage of Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda resulted in 28,000 murders in four days, or one every 12.5 seconds.
There are nine actors in a production by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada that is banned in their home country, and achieves the rare, and today, unfashionable, distinction of combining dissident fury with exceptional theatrical imagery and eloquence.
It is also heading for Edinburgh, where it will play for one week at the Pleasance Grand in August. You won't just go and have a good night out: you'll probably also sign up to the campaign and throw money in a bucket.