Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Day 2 - Wandering Hanger Festival

Lutsk Castle 
Chamber Theatre "Zhuky", Donetsk (Ukraine) 

Day 2 held a fair dose of five shows in one day (clearly too much for this critic), and the first of these took us into the ruins of a church in Lutsk Castle.

This was a heightened ritual performance, belonging firmly in the classic Greek theatre tradition, laden with gesture and symbolism. Two actors (a business suited Chistokletov Evgeny, probably mostly occupying the role of Creon, and Olga Chistokletova as Antigone) took us through the story of Antigone’s defiance of her role and the state.

Photo - Pavla Berezuka

The subtleties of the text being (clearly) lost on me, I was left to focus on symbolic elements. These were a scope of timeless metaphors – sand pouring from a bowl, a lit torch, and it was, as far as I could tell, falling clearly within the traditions of Greek theatre – with the clarity of its universal symbols guiding the focus, and providing some stark moments that illustrate clearly the hierarchy of gender and power.

NOTE: A small scandal has emerged regarding this play's location in the ruins of the church, which I explain a little here. Suffice to say - it makes for sad reading.

Orchestra, by Jean Anouilh
Night Club
Studio Theatre "Soglasie", St. Petersburg (Russia)

Orchestra sat firmly in the realm of farce, blending exaggeration with ridicule. The target here was apparently gender relations, though I left thinking it hadn’t quite hit the mark.

"The Incident (or the Case in Subway) by N. Bayer
‘The Bronx’
Theatre-studio Splash, Kiev (Ukraine)

Photo - Pavla Berezuka
The Bronx is an abandoned factory in the west of town that was due to be turned into a factory for water-measuring instruments before the untimely collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s a setting that speaks of the abandoned and forgotten elements of society, complete with the scars of many delinquent camps.

It’s gotta be the perfect setting for this play. The set-up: two hoods (including a stand-out performance from Oleksiy Yatsiuta) bash and rob a guy in an alley in New York, before going underground to take the subway to Times Square, and subsequently terrorising the people in the carriage one-by-one, with no-one daring to intervene.

It’s a common ethical crisis and one that everyone can relate to. What made this fascinating for me was that it’s actually an adaptation of the 1968 US film of the same name. The adaptation issues should have meant this play couldn’t work.

But, I felt, work it does. Though Ukraine lacks the ethnic diversity of America, it has its fair share of ethical crises. The transplant means we lose some of the ‘multicultural diversity’ promoted by the film (thank god, no black face), and instead are left to focus on the single point, made repeatedly, that the public citizen does not put themselves at risk for the sake of others.
(This point, by the way, I refuse to believe, thinking it a self-fulfilling prophecy. If together we believe that no-one will intervene, then no-one intervenes.)

There are two adaptive points here – one is cultural context, and the other is the medium. Both seemed remarkably successful. The first half shows the mugging itself, then giving a slice of life of each of the subway car’s occupants, before we shift into the subway for the second act. This is done courtesy of some simple and versatile jungle-jim like metal poles, which are re-shaped to suit the various domestic spaces of the characters, before turning outwards into an open-sided ‘V’ shape, giving a heightened version of the perspective one would have looking down a train carriage.

The sense that we are also the guilty spectators is perhaps a point that doesn’t need to be said. Likewise, the idea that the muggers are manifestations of the social dysfunction of the characters – a reading that prevents the play (and the film) from totally demonising its anti-heroes, and forces the moral question onto the audience.

The rockin’ soundtrack sits well under the action, giving the actors plenty of space, capping off an impression that this was a play that clearly benefitted from a deft directorial hand.

Stars, by Anja Hilling
Theatre Vinora, Kharkiv

This astonishing play, written by Berlin playwright Anja Hilling and performed by a brave and synergised ensemble, is the highlight of the festival for me.

Photo - Pavla Berezuka

Events revolve around an apple tree, where a group of four young friends meet to take ‘stars’ – a drug. One of them sexually assaults another, who in the morning is found dead at the bottom of the tree. The three can’t decide if it was suicide or an accident, and it continues to affect their lives as they try to have relationships with each other.

Castration metaphors abound in the direction – it feels like half of the scenes are cut off just as their dramatic resolution comes into view, or characters jump for a light they can’t quite reach. It’s a kind of poem, an explosive erotic one. It speaks with a visual and aural, as well as textual, language – the emphasis, compared to other productions of the 2002 play, is on sex and violence. The highlight of this is a simple but shocking representation of losing your virginity - a long white sheet torn in half at the critical point. It was beautifully poetic and totally shocking.

They play is not just a bag of tricks - everything is there to support a furious neo-feminist argument, clearly living in the minds of all actors. The addition (I think it’s an addition) of the offstage doubled role of the typist/sound + lights operator, adorned in an uber-kitsch lettered jacket, draws attention to the author as her own feminist figure.

That this play is from a group from Kharkiv, which I had previously associated with tractors and an unusually deep Metro, further blew my mind.

Father, by A. Strindberg
Lutsk District Culture House
Municipal Theatre of Boryspil City Council

I found this adaptation of one of Strindberg’s less performed text extremely difficult to follow, and probably anything I say will be a shot in the dark. It reminded me very much of the plays I saw in Benalla by the community theatre when I was growing up.

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