Theatre Critic and Journalist

Belarus Free Theatre to bring battle against death penalty to UK

Belarus Free Theatre to bring battle against death penalty to UK

Published in The Guardian, 27.03.2013

Belarus Free Theatre will present a new piece – their first in English – that challenges the use of capital punishment around the world at the Young Vic this summer.

Trash Cuisine, which will follow its London dates with a week-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe, will argue that state-sanctioned capital punishment breeds a wider culture of violence. It will blend verbatim testimony with music, dance and sections from Shakespeare’s tragedies.

“We want to look at whether a state’s use of capital punishment sets an example to its citizens and legitimises other forms of violence,” the company’s co-artistic director Natalia Kaliada told the Guardian. “If we talk about capital punishment, is it only the state or can it involve one person or a group taking other people’s lives?”

Belarus is the last European country to employ the death penalty, and was urged last year to abandon the policy by the EU and Human Rights Watch in the wake of two high-profile executions. Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov, both 26, were put to death last March after being convicted of a bomb attack that took place less than a year before. Kovalyov’s mother has since travelled around the world, maintaining her son’s innocence.

“In Belarus, when people are executed, their bodies are not given back to their families, so they never get the chance to bury their relatives,” Kaliada continued.

Trash Cuisine will also feature testimonials drawn from some of the other 94 countries worldwide where the death penalty remains in use, including Thailand and Malaysia. Interviewees include executioners, human rights lawyers, inmates and their families. “For us, it’s always important that we talk to people personally,” Kaliada explained.

She added: “When we were in Malaysia, some journalists asked: ‘Why are you here? Isn’t it enough for you to have your own troubles?’ We go to those places where others don’t get enough attention. We absolutely understand what it means not to be heard and we need to find those areas of the world that are hidden, where people’s stories do not get a chance to be heard.”

Belarus Free Theatre is banned from performing in its home country and, in the past three months, its underground performances in Minsk have been subject to five police raids.

Today, according to Kaliada, it operates as a “two-headed beast”, maintaining operations in Minsk while performing around the world. Trash Cuisine will be their second full run at the Young Vic, following Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker. “The Young Vic is our home,” said Kaliada. “It’s the only permanent place in our lives right now.”

Artistic director David Lan said: “Trash Cuisine is all we expect from BFT – provocation, daring and unforgettable theatre.” It will run in the Young Vic’s Maria Studio between 30 May and 17 June, before opening in Edinburgh on 19 August.

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