Mayfest 2012: Minsk, Tobacco Factory

25 05 2012

Of all things, it is the Eurovision Song Contest taking place in Azerbaijan this weekend that has brought into sharp focus what an oppressive regime in Europe can do to its own people. Human rights protesters are being bundled into the back of cars by state security forces, and journalists arrested for daring to ask questions.

Some of the pictures on the news bare striking similarities to a video shown near the beginning of Minsk, a thought-provoking, troubling and deeply moving show which has been brought to Mayfest by Belarus Free Theatre.

The video shows young  people in a square clapping, before their illegal gathering (there is a law in Belarus that prohibits people standing together and doing nothing) is violently broken up by plain clothes police officers.

As the young actors in turn do innocuous activities like clap, play the flute and unfurl a rainbow flag, they are bundled off by heavies in beanie hats looking just like the heavies on the video screen, onto which is also projected an English translation of the Belarusian spoken and shouted.

What makes Minsk all the more powerful is that the events acted out are not just true but happened to the actors in front of us. Dzenis Tarasenka was seized at a rally and spent three hours being stretched against a wall. He proudly showed us his scars.

Belarus Free Theatre are some of the most outspoken critics of the repressive regime in Europe’s last dictatorship. Tarasenka is not alone in his suffering; many company members have served time in prison, lost their jobs, gone into hiding or been exiled.

Not many pieces of theatre so skilfully open your eyes to troubling happenings in a country that may be in Europe but remains virtually unknown to outsiders.

With panache and bravery, Minsk reveals the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary true stories. This is must-see theatre.

Minsk is at the Tobacco Factory until tomorrow. Click here for more information.


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