Edinburgh Fringe 2016
It’s not often you get to see a guerilla folk opera with a Balkan klezmer marching band and Ukrainian polyphonic singing based on the uprising in Kiev in 2014. Take the opportunity – it’s brilliant.
From the hope and euphoria of protest to the fear and despair of the crushing of the uprising, Counting Sheep takes us on an immersive journey through the 2014 Ukrainian uprising. In February 2014, Maidan Square in Kiev was occupied by demonstrators protesting against an EU trade treaty and the corrupt Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovych. Mark and Marichka Marczyk met and love in fell in Maidan Square; this is their highly personal and emotive retelling of their experience in the square.
An immersive guerilla folk-opera accompanied by Toronto’s Balkan klezmer punk band, the Lemon Bucket Orchestra, Counting Sheep takes us deep into those optimistic days when Maidan Square was briefly a place of idealism and revolutionary dreams. Feeding us bread and beetroot (“protestors need to eat too”), twirling us round in dancing and handing out roses, Counting Sheep quickly draws us deeply into the action. We feel the hope and excitement of protest as we are pulled along with the cast, which makes the brutal violence of the clampdown when it comes even more affecting.
Screens to three sides provide footage of what happened in Maidan Square along with some simple narration. The story is told by achingly beautiful Ukrainian polyphonic singing that brims over with pure joy one moment and descends into desperate sadness the next. Lemon Bucket Orchestra provide a wonderful ramshackle day parade, punctuating and leading the action with their anarchic mixture of klezmer and punk.
The cast of twelve give a wonderful ensemble performance where it becomes impossible to separate one from another; together they form a swirling vortex of action. Using masks, the actors take on characters from both sides of the divide. As well as being a highly practical means of the cast playing a multitude of characters, it both illustrates the arbitrariness of political division and adds an air of menace.
While Counting Sheep does not claim to be anything other than a very personal take on the action, it, nonetheless, gives a very emotive and populist view of a political situation where the facts are highly contested. This is a show about feeling what it’s like to be part of the action rather than standing back and examining the facts; it shows us what it’s like to be part of the action, what it would take to make us throw brick at a barricade. But above all, it brings home just how frighteningly close day to day normality can be to tipping over into lawlessness and repression.
It’s a performance of extraordinary vitality and engagement – don’t miss it.