tue 23/07/2024

Trash Cuisine, Young Vic Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Trash Cuisine, Young Vic Theatre

Trash Cuisine, Young Vic Theatre

Belarus Free Theatre serve up food, spectacle - and torture

Waterboarding, BFT-styleSimon Annand

There was a sense of nervous anticipation in the Maria, the Young Vic's studio space. Ninety minutes of torture was on the menu, and I'll admit to feeling some trepidation. But this show - and "show" is the right word - turns out to be a revelation.

Writers Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada, co-founders of Belarus Free Theatre, have pulled off an astonishing coup: their feast for the senses, directed by Khalezin, tells horrific stories without melodrama, without overstatement or buckets of blood - and it is all the stronger for its brilliant mix of matter-of-factness and lyricism.

Belarus Free Theatre returns to the Young VicAcclaimed for their King Lear last season at the Globe (and returning there in September), the BFT regard the Young Vic as their UK home. Khalezin and Kaliada are officially "enemies of the state" in Lukashenko's brutal dictatorship and cannot return to their country. Other company members still give underground performances in Minsk but are constantly under threat, and their audiences risk losing education or employment simply for turning up. For them, politics and theatre are inextricably bound up. This show aims to draw attention to the victims of the last dictatorship in Europe, but it goes beyond the boundaries of Belarus.

Trash Cuisine is a collage, a compilation of documented experiences from around the world, wherever torture and the death penalty are the tools of oppressive regimes or factions in conflict. And lest we should feel too comfortably superior in our enlightened democracy, one example tells of an innocent Irish teenager tortured and imprisoned for 17 years for killing a soldier. He is a chef and is introduced by way of a recipe.

BFT at their London "home", the Young VicFood links the various scenes. Occasionally it is horribly literal, as in the case of the Tutsi woman whose Hutu husband killed their children and fried parts of their bodies to be offered to her. More often it is metaphorical: two executioners, from Thailand and Belarus, brightly discuss their methods while consuming strawberries and cream. Sometimes it simply provides a lulling contrast: groups smilingly sit at tables in a restaurant, taking turns to mouth lawyer Clive Stafford Smith's horribly detailed, down-to-earth description of the death of a client by electric chair. Sometimes it provides a means of expressing both the mess and the calculated order of execution as ingredients - flour, but pulses and fruit too - become part of the intricate choreography performed by a perfectly balanced ensemble of eight actors.

The staging is simple, all black and white, with a screen to display statistics or grainy photos. We bear witness to the story of two young men tortured into confessing that they had planted a bomb which killed a number of people in Minsk. They were executed. The mother of one of them has travelled the world telling his story, maintaining his innocence and campaigning for the return of his body for burial. Families never receive the bodies of executed prisoners in Belarus.

The introduction of speeches from Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice does not add a great deal, especially given the horrible if unintentional echo of Titus Andronicus in the Rwanda story, and departs from the powerful mix of fact and appeals to the senses. Nor is smell neglected: as well as the unwelcome aromas of frying, a pungent, tear-making stink wafts over the audience as the cast end by attacking pounds of onions with fearsome weapons.

Key to the success of Trash Cuisine is Arkadiy Yushin's music on guitar and drums. Lyrical, even gentle, it provides a perfect counter to the often gruesome facts and, together with the beautiful movement, sends us out reaching, not for the sick bowl, but for a pen to sign BFT's petition against capital punishment.


Two executioners brightly discuss their methods while consuming strawberries and cream


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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