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Inside Pussy Riot: Saatchi Gallery

November 22, 2017

(seen at the morning performance on 16th November 2017).

www.insidepussyriot.com

Those of a certain generation will remember the huge “Christmas Grotto” setups in the major department stores of the land each December (or as early as the managers thought they could get away with it). A large section of the stockroom was boarded off and the window-dressing department got the chance to create a load of wood and cotton-wool scenes (with plenty of silver foil if the theme that year was “Space.”) Parents would hand over a pretty fair chunk of cash and “Tracee from Stationery” would wear her best elf outfit and guide the tinies past the “nodding reindeer” and into Santa’s beery lap. Quick prezzy from the barrel and that was your lot. With a bit of imagination, though, it was magic.

Kind of appropriate, then, that in a festively bedecked Saatchi Gallery, Les Enfants Terribles are presenting something pretty similar, but with a political edge. Concieved by Peter Verzilov, with a script by Oliver Lansley (assisted by actual Pussy Rioter Nadya Tolokonnikova), this “immersive theatre experience” follows the process of protest through trial, conviction, hard labour and eventual release, in an hour-long series of “walk-though” interactive scenes.

To describe the actual events would be to take away the major impact of the event – the “not knowing what will happen” element. I won’t do that, but suffice to say that with a good group (sadly, mine was a bunch of disinterested young students) it’s impossible not to experience some kind of emotional reaction to the experience.

Do be aware that “shrinking violets” and those not willing to participate to a degree (nothing more than following instructions – easier than not, is the point they make – and a little solo shout) should give this a miss, and claustrophobics are also advised not to take part, for good reason.

Director Christa Harris makes time move fairly quickly, with some nice ideas – your journey really is personal, based on a few facts gleaned at the beginning, and Designer Zoe Koperski does what she can within the budget – fibreboard bars are pretty convincing, even if some of the later joinery and soundproofing are rather budget.

The script occasionally veers “off message,” and one scene in particular fails to deliver anything like the satirical impact it was intended to do. Another scene is also confused as too much is delivered too quickly (and slightly inaudibly), while poor design hampers the final pay-off – the actor sadly coming out of character rather than improvising around it, too.

The major issue, sadly, is that many of the actors lack the authority to instil the required emotions into the entire group. Two unruly teenage boys and some rather under-educated teenage girls in my group were lost by much of the surrounding symbolism, and not helped by the unaggressive approach of the cast. Their outbursts rather spoiled many of the effects for the rest.

Done with more creative energy, the result could have achieved greater impact. As it was, it was actually a relief at one point to be given private time to reflect. During that time, much of the show made a deeper sense. There is truth in this – and a strange gratitude overwhelmed me as I was on the tube home and realised just how many choices I could make even within that single journey.

The message, then, must have got through, and in a way I’d be curious to experience the whole event again once the cast have had time to go deeper into their roles, and without the same nagging fear of what might happen next…

… and that’s the point – we take it for granted that we know, and feel no need to guard it, or demand change as required. The need to riot is reserved, but certainly the will to do so if totalitarianism threatens must remain. This show, if nothing else, reasons it out, loud and clear.

Three Stars.

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