I am blown away.
Rarely does taking part in a piece of theatre speak so directly to the core of my being, but Counting Sheep is one of the most exciting, moving and provoking pieces of theatre I have ever seen.
Set in Ukraine around the 2014 revolution we are introduced to the action by Mark – a Canadian of Ukrainian heritage who is visiting the country as a travelling musician. He gets swept up in the revolution and through him so too does the audience.
At first, the action is joyous, boisterous, raucous even as the actors and participants dance in the streets, wave the EU and Ukrainian flags and chant slogans of freedom. There is a wedding on the barricades and food and drink for the guests.
But as the tempo of the omnipresent drums changes so too does something almost kinetic in the air. Those like myself who learned to protest before they could walk (I was pushed in my buggy at many a CND demo) could sense what was about to happen. The scene turned ugly and the drama more intense.
Brilliantly staged with a set that was at one moment a wedding feast, the next a barricade, the next a funeral pyre, the action was never lost. All around you were multimedia footage of the real events, shaky and grainy as these first-hand accounts tend to be. They added both to the atmosphere of the piece but also to the sense of confusion that comes with being in the thick of a fast-moving and uncertain scene.
Additionally, the show would have been very different without the music. From the Irish revolutionary song The Old Triangle, through high energy EMD and Ukrainian folk (and a stunning blending of the two) the backdrop to this revolution – as so many – was made up of songs of passion. I didn’t need to understand the words to grasp the meaning.
This is immersive theatre at its finest. The crowd are completely involved at every point. Whether it was waving my EU flag for everything I am worth, waltzing with a “sweaty Canadian” or building a barricade I was in the thick of everything. If that’s not your idea of a good time though, they also offer observer tickets for those who just want to watch.
This was also much closer to my experiences of American immersive than the UK. The choreography for the principals was reminiscent of what I saw in Then She Fell or Sleep No More, adding a dimension to the play that heightened emotional tensions further still.
The history of this period is well documented. So that the play manages to end on a twist that will shock and move you is ingenious. I left the theatre in pieces emotionally but inspired and fired up. This timely piece about a nation desperate to join the EU and escape it’s powerful and corrupt neighbour in Russia has so much to say to us about the times we are going through.
I cannot recommend highly enough that you see this play. I can promise you I will be seeing it again.
- By Mark and Marichka Maryczyk
- Directed by Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin
- Please note a strobe light is in use
- Cast Includes: Michael Edwards, Hanna Arkipchuk, Volodymyr Bedzvin
- Forge, The Vaults
- Until 17th March 2019
- Running time: 90 minutes