“Two Ukrainian Plays” portray Ukrainian society and war from a very intimate perspective. These are two moving, emotional shows that bring the experience much closer to the audience’s minds and hearts.
I’m extremely grateful to Finborough Theatre for making this event happen so quickly (by theatre standards) and supporting the highlighting of Ukrainian stories on the stage. Having such an opportunity will hit the ears of the audience in such a different way compared with just listening to a generic news channel.
Take The Rubbish Out, Sasha (written by Natal’ya Vorozhbit)
“They’ve mobilised all the living now, the fifth call took the last of the living. But the war keeps on. So high command asked us.”
It’s a fascinating story of a grieving family who has just lost a stepfather/husband named Sasha. As the plot progresses though, the show gets an added unexpected element of fantasy/magic world, as Sasha returns as a ghost.
We watch Oksana (the daughter) and Katja (the wife) as they follow the traditions related to a death of a loved one: they prepare a feast for the guests at the wake and then a year later, a picnic at the cemetery. As the conversations flow and women prepare the food, we observe Sasha’s return as a ghost: first, just to check on his family and later, to ask for permission to fight for his country in the face of a Russian attack.
The show makes you immerse in Ukrainian traditions, like dumpling making or bringing a feast for the deceased into the cemetery. It also shows the kind of conversations that happened just before Russia’s attack in 2014 on Crimea – first the disbelief, then the confusion and finding ways to become useful for the country in such a shocking moment. What “Take the rubbish out, Sasha” achieves brilliantly is it brings these emotions and conversations so closely that as an audience member, you feel as if you’re sitting in the kitchen with your mom and going through it yourself. Extremely relatable.
The acting of the small cast is brilliant. Both Issy Knowles as Oksana and Amanda Ryan as Katja are fantastic, showcasing their encounters with Sasha in a level way. Ryan has especially strong moments when she delivers monologues about Sasha’s past or mentions the “unnecessary Ukrainian army” that nobody needs because so far there seems to be no threat around (ohhh, nooooo). Alan Cox as Sasha partners with them in some of the scenes, but rightfully so, gives the stage’s spotlight to the women. He doesn’t have much to say, but he builds the story with just his quiet presence and some sarcastic remarks.
The stage setting is simple, with a table, chairs, and a projection screen behind. The video projections at the back of the stage are seen a bit over the top and – especially in the moments when they are animated, just don’t look to par with the painfully realistic portrait of life otherwise portrayed.
The show achieves its goals using simple delivery, which also makes it easier for the audience to understand. Even if you are not fully aware of what exactly happened in Ukraine in 2014, you will fully understand the play – that’s the beauty of it.
Pussycat in Memory of Darkness (written by Neda Nezhdana)
“I want to report a robbery…I was robbed. What was stolen from me? Almost everything…Home, land, car, work, friends, city, faith in goodness…’”
A portrait of a woman who, against all odds, decides to stay in Donbas during the Russian invasion (inspired by a real-life story). The show showcases her slow mental and physical decay as she loses neighbours, safety, home, and even her favourite cat. Darkness here also describes the Russians and their behaviour as a dark mass that absorbs whatever they see on their way. There’s also the darkness in their eyes, as described by HER – the main character.
It’s a one-actress show, which, thanks to brilliant delivery, avoids the usual monologue monotony or flatness. Kristin Milward, playing “She” delivers a show that reminded me of an afternoon at my auntie’s. She would sit me at her kitchen table, make me tea, and just talk for hours, about how during WW2 Germans would kick her out of her home and make her flee her hometown. As time would fly, my tea would get cooler, but my heart would grow with empathy and sadness. The same thing happens here – Milward’s delivery makes you feel like you’re listening to a family member that just went through hell and now has finally found the strength to talk about it loud.
The play is dotted with a short video documentary presentation of the real 2014 events, displayed on the projector. These have lots of potentials to make the audience fully feel what the situation in Donbas was. Clips are, however, very short, just a few seconds long, and although give hope for a stronger impact, they just don’t last long enough to properly sink in.
Light design plays a big part in this play, as following the action, there is less and less of it as the show develops, until it does completely dark at the end. The show ends with a short video showing the terrifying shots of this year’s war in Ukraine – a simple way to make everyone in the audience sink into the message in their minds.
‘Pussycat in Memory of Darkness” delivers multiple emotional punches that will make you fully understand what happened in Ukraine in 2014.
Two Ukrainian Plays
until 3 September 2022