Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

We all must applaud this patriotic polemic

Belarus. A country where it’s forbidden to look a stranger in the eye. Where raising a flag can incur a beating from the police. Where just existing can somehow be a crime.

A place of wounded people, where scars are seen as sexy. This is Minsk — the sexiest city in the world.

Here’s a rare opportunity to see the city through the eyes of |Belarus Free Theatre.

Their endeavours have not gone unrewarded at home — many members of the company have lost their jobs, been forced into hiding, spent time in prison or even been exiled.

But the show must go on and BFT continues to develop its award-winning work with the support of artists around the world.

It’s courageous of the company — many face punishment if they return home, or exile in Europe if they cannot. But they’re determined to lift the curtain on a place where prostitution is considered a cultural event and twisted sexuality is the daily norm.

Minsk 2011 tells of the strip clubs, illicit raves and gay parades which flourish under the surface of the city. In Vladimir Shcherban’s adaptation, which he also directs, the brutal regime which stamps on self-expression is portrayed in a series of scenes as diverse as a man unfurling a flag, a naked actress being wrapped up in paper like a parcel,

and a man being arrested for |applauding.

The company, which must perform in secret at home, delivers this love letter to their country, Europe’s last dictatorship. They remind us about what we prefer to ignore and show how the people who have been silenced still have plenty to say.

And as soon as they’ve said it, all signs of their rebellion are swept away. Yet still they mourn for the place they call home.

The bravery of the cast and the honesty of the show have garnered the company praise across Europe. Now it’s Belfast’s turn to show solidarity with the citizens of Belarus, when the show opens at the Lyric Theatre this evening — and when the actors take their bows, we should applaud their |bravery.

Which is more than they can do.

Minsk 2011, Lyric Studio, today until Saturday, November 3

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