Ash Bell – PussyRiotTheatre_Carriageworks_Sydney_28

Review: Pussy Riot Theatre at Carriageworks, Sydney, 27 January 2018

Pussy Riot Theatre‘s performance at Carriageworks was – in every sense of the word – powerful. It commanded the audience’s attention with a barrage of dissonance, and managed to capture and translate the anarchy they brought to Russia leading up to Putin’s suspicious election in 2011, and the fallout of injustices brought upon them.

The performance recounted the story of their protests, heavy-handed persecution for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’, and notoriety for fighting the unholy marriage of crony Russian democracy with religious conservatism, which still holds Russia under a dark cloud of corruption.

Pussy Riot Theatre is part of the collective of Pussy Riot, which has grown from the original members of performers to a worldwide movement, protesting violations of human rights and political persecution worldwide. Saturday night hosted a lineup close to the original Pussy Riot from 2011, led by Maria Alyokhina as she recaptured the original story in a theatre performance that was relentless and uncompromising.

After a brief introduction from the play’s notable director Yuri Muravitsky explaining the biographical nature of the performance and context of the members, the show quickly got started with a marching, forbidding pulse of electronic drums, with all members taking turns in narrating the opening moments.

From the very start it was disorienting, intense, and deliberately verbose. As the performers recounted the story in Russian in a semi-stream of consciousness style, English subtitles and supporting images helped emphasise key moments of the story and added to the shows already strong dynamics.

No songs were played, no breaks were had, just one hour of constant evolving soundscapes and poetic narrative, based heavily off Maria Alyokhina’s autobiographical book, ‘Riot Days’. The drum beat was the foundation for the performance, with dialogue, stage antics and saxophone all added on top over the course of the show.

While in writing this may sound nauseating, in practice it was quite compelling, as each chapter of the story reflected a phase of Pussy Riot’s journey and Alyokina’s path of protest, persecution and redemption.

That said, there were moments where the performance risked becoming self indulgent, perhaps the closest was three minutes of the performers screaming and rolling around on the floor to reflect the angst of fighting against a powerful and draconian judicial system. Had the group not been so effective in communicating such raw emotions and in such a convincing manner, it would have been a wanky flop.

But the performers clearly gave it their all, as if the weight of the story wasn’t enough to persuade you. Every action and movement was passionate and heartfelt.

Another unfortunate aspect of the night actually had little to do with the group: for reason unclear, the audience seemed very stiff and rigid. This was most evident when performer Kiryl Masheka started opening bottles of water and flinging them into the crowd in fits of rage (as part of the group recounting Alyokhina’s time in Ural prison).

The front rows of the crowd were audibly offended, with some members even moving from their seats to avoid measly water ruining their clean cut night, and throwing the bottles back at the performers.

While other audience members clearly got it, some even laughing at the spectacle, body language from the front row was clearly not on board. It seemed almost prudish for the audience to be so fickle despite knowing what these performers had endured and faced in real life. But, again, this did little to hamper Pussy Riot’s performance, only creating a tense air in the already strange night.

Pussy Riot’s performance was far from enjoyable, but that was very much the point – the whole show was a confronting and emotive force that barraged you for an hour. You felt what they felt at every turn.

The group ended on the sobering anecdote ‘freedom doesn’t exist unless you fight for it every day’; something that resonated particularly strong in the audience, and honestly, given today’s worldwide political climate, should resonate with everyone reading this.

If you care about freedom of speech, women’s rights, LGBT rights or even human rights, consider purchasing Maria Alyokhina’s book or following https://zona.media/, the independent media outlet co-founded by Alyokhina herself.

 




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