Belarus Free Theatre are a company who have earned a reputation for defying the Belarusian regime (literally – as theatre in Belarus is state sanctioned) with bold, politically minded work.Red Foresthas been jointly commissioned by LIFT and by Melbourne Festival; the former also recognized as an organization that help to develop boundary pushing work. So much promise; such a disappointment.
It’s like an 80-minute Enya video that’s been commissioned by Amnesty International. Very cheesy and very worthy: commendable for effort, but doubtful in terms of its efficacy – consisting, as it does, of a sentimental wail against the troublous world, lacking focus and lacking thrust.
First to deal with the aesthetic. The music belongs in a shopping centre; the projected imagery on a screensaver. The actors do a lot of bodies-as-objects type stuff / playing shaking geriatrics / wearing sunglasses / generally embarrassing themselves. There’s a scene in which the ensemble blow feathers out of books, whilst ripple effects are projected onto a screen. It’s dated, cliché ridden and without impact.
In terms of the content: the main issue was a total lack of it. We were told to expect ‘extraordinary true stories from around the world’. No doubt this informed the process – but the actual narratives were merged into one, and next to impossible to disentangle. There was a lot of intense emotional involvement, but in relation to what – most of the time I couldn’t say. In a Belarusian context, perhaps the subtext would have been clearer – but judging this, as I think is only fair, as a show intended for London and Melbourne audiences, it feels dangerously directionless.