Finborough Theatre, London – until August 2022
The second pair of plays from #FinboroughFrontier’s quartet of pieces #VoicesFromUkraine reflecting on the situation in the war torn nation is now available. They join the first couple to form a suite of programmes focusing on life in the country as the inhabitants are invaded by a hostile force and their response to the situation. Understandably they are rather bleak and certainly leave you feeling that, for all our own domestic troubles, things could be so much worse.
A Dictionary Of Emotions In A Time of War by Yelena Astasyeva has more than one element. In the first a disembodied voice announces a series of abstract concepts – hunger, betrayal, hatred, guilt, etc. After each the central figure of Yelena (presumably meant to be the author) reflects on what these words and concepts mean both for her and her fellow citizens as they struggle to retain a modicum of normality.
In the second there is dialogue between her and two friends. Marina is a fellow Ukrainian sharing a similar experience; the other figure is a Russian friend, Anna, who while clearly sympathetic to Yelena’s plight is in no position to do anything much about the situation. The general tone is one of puzzlement over how such atrocities have come to pass. One aspect which I found intriguing was that with bombs going off and gunfire being ever present there is still room to be concerned about everyday matters. Marina is worried about what she will do with her cat if she has to evacuate. Yelena herself cannot decide whether cleaning her flat is simply going to be a waste of time if, at any moment, it is going to be reduced to a pile of rubble; in such a situation, what does a bit of dust matter?
The piece comes across as very slow and there are too many overlong pauses employed. I couldn’t quite decide whether this was to allow the audience time to reflect on what they were listening to or whether it had not really been directed/edited tightly enough. And there are some obvious editing points, so it definitely wasn’t being presented “as live” which meant the longueurs might have been more forgivable.
It was all rather reminiscent of some of the hesitant Zoom offerings which first emerged at the start of the pandemic but as things now tend to be rather more sophisticated it came across as rather a throwback to early 2020 when the medium was still in the throes of reinventing itself. While the message it conveys is important, I wasn’t particularly taken with it as a piece of drama.
Also bucking the general definition as a piece of theatre is Stand Up For Ukraine. This is written, performed, directed and produced by Bréon Rydell; his biographical details also badge him as a poet, composer and activist. Essentially this a rallying cry to the world at large calling for its support and clearly setting out reasons why this should be the case. Structured as an open letter there is a good deal of anger underpinning what is being said though it never descends into hectoring. Rather Rydell’s voice remains controlled but persuasive.
At approximately just six minutes long it takes care to deliver its message succinctly and with potent oratory. Essentially it is an audio piece though with (if this isn’t contradictory) a strong visual element designed by Anna Heller, a young Ukrainian audiovisual artist, music producer and designer. The chosen images play out against a fluttering Ukrainian flag and provide a, not necessary literal, but powerful call to arms and a testament to the people of the invaded country – “Know us by our courage, not by our fear”.
This pair of plays, and indeed the whole season, curated by Neil McPherson and Athena Stevens, is intended to draw attention to the plight of the people in the war zone and in this it succeeds admirably. Donations are requested for Voices.org.ua, a Ukrainian charity providing psychological/psychosocial support to children affected in the region. Further online content is planned, and two live plays are scheduled to appear later in the summer at the venue.