As part of their online project #FinboroughFrontier, the small ex-pub theatre in west London (ex because the pub had to close down during the pandemic, the theatre is still there) is premiering four plays reflecting on the current situation in Ukraine. These will be topped off with an onstage production featuring two more pieces later in the summer. The first pair of online plays has already been released and they provide a salutary reminder that in a world seemingly currently dominated by parties – our national celebrations, Partygate and party political manoeuvring – there are ongoing humanitarian concerns which do, or at least should, outweigh them all.
The writer’s name which appears most frequently in the Finborough programme is Neda Nezhdana the author of 24 plays, 8 adaptations and 2 poetry collections. Currently living in internal exile in Ukraine she is clearly a major player in their modern theatre and through her work has investigated the ongoing conflict for a number of years. It is her latest monologue play, Otvetka, which opens the season, being first performed in her homeland as recently as two months ago and still playing while, as the website wryly notes, “performances are constantly interrupted by the all-too-real sound of the air-raid siren”. It is based on the true story of an opera singer who forwent his career in Paris to return and fight for his country only to be killed a short while later by a sniper’s bullet.
The speaker in this monologue is his partner and mother of their child who communicates her feelings and situation by responding to a friend and, by extension ourselves. She recounts incidents from her personal experience which are also universal to many Ukrainians and, despite the script in hand performance, this is communicated with immediacy and a sense of tension. There is perhaps no more chilling moment than when the actor stares straight into the camera lens and says to her friend/us: “You say there is nothing you can do. You can do something.” This is just one of many instances where London based, Ukrainian raised actress Kate Vostrikova creates a rounded character with whom we wish to empathise. The structure of the play is somewhat fragmentary but that is entirely in keeping with the subject matter and is filmed simply in one room with direct address to camera. To one side a table in more or less permanent view is decorated with the colours of the Ukrainian flag, a powerful symbolic reminder of the grim realities being spoken about. The play’s title refers to a military counter offensive and also means answers; the second of these seem currently to be in very short supply.
Where Otvetka is a full monologue, the second piece The Peed-Upon Armored Personnel Carrier comes in at under ten minutes and is more of an anecdote than a fully realised piece. I’m aware that “anecdote” suggests a light hearted approach and although there is some humour contained in Oksana Gritsenko’s script there is still an underlying seriousness to the situation as it deals with the effects on a small rural village of the Russian invasion. Narrator Rebecca Hands-Wicks tells of the locals’ reactions to the soldiers (whom they dub The Goats) when they take over. Partly they face up to them and form themselves into a resistance movement; partly they just try and get on with daily life which is concerned with feeding themselves, milking the cows, hiding their cars from their unwelcome visitors and vainly trying to get a mobile phone signal. In a big act of defiance, a pair of them ritually desecrate one of the symbols of their oppression. There are no specific characters or dialogue exchanges but the piece is so short that this scarcely matters. As with the previous monologue the design elements of yellow and blue are prominently on display.
These pair of plays, and indeed the whole season curated by Neil McPherson and Athena Stevens, are 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. As indicated above, further content is scheduled to appear throughout the summer.
#VoicesFromUkraine is available via the Finborough Theatre website – click here. Subtitled versions are available via Scenesaver
Two Ukranian Plays open at the Finborough Theatre on Tuesday, 9 August 2022 for a four week limited season
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