The Anarchist review – an innocent sense of humour amid political unrest
From The Guardian Jermyn Street theatre, London
The first winner of the Woven Voices prize for migrant playwrights is an open-hearted play that layers a Belarusian woman’s past and present.
Leather jackets and protest banners, bootleg booze and molotov cocktails hang from above. These are the props from Dasha’s teenage years growing up in Belarus, back when she was an anarchist and, amid the fall of the Berlin Wall, change felt possible. Now middle-aged, Dasha has a chance to move to the US but, if she is to get away, she’ll have to help quell the unrest that rumbles around yet another corrupt election. Should she flee and thrive – or stay and fight?
Written by Karina Wiedman, who was born in Kazakhstan and has lived in Russia, Belarus and now the UK, The Anarchist is the inaugural winner of the Woven Voices prize for migrant writers. There is a diary-like intimacy to Wiedman’s play, which is lit up by vivid details and an innocent sense of humour. Scarlett Brookes, as Dasha, creates an easy relationship with the audience. She smiles conspiratorially with us as Dasha chases after the wrong boys (“I want to sing him love songs in French! I can’t speak French!”) and, like all teenagers, dreams of a better future.
Ebenezer Bamgboye’s mature production is tight and nimble, aided by some cleverly effective work from set designer Catlin Mawhinney and lighting designer Catya Hamilton. A series of powerful mime sequences, choreographed by Adi Gortler and Sacha Plaige, manages to create a feeling of mass movement and outside forces that cannot be controlled, with a cast of just three. There are also some beautifully layered moments (a scarf is pulled slowly around the neck of Dasha’s increasingly disillusioned mother) as the past and the present rub painfully together.
When they are not involved in direct action, the other two actors – Elisabeth Snegir and Ojan Genc – watch Dasha’s story unfold, their faces etched with empathy. This is a production as much about what we choose to listen to as about how we choose to live. It isn’t perfect: I never quite believed in middle-aged Dasha or the hopeful note on which her story ends. But this is an open-hearted and moving piece of writing that has the bravery to focus on the emotions that unite us rather than the politics that set us apart.
At Jermyn Street theatre, London, until 30 July