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Brighton Festival 2014

Opus No 7

Moscow Theatre School of Dramatic Art. Dmitry Krymov Laboratory

Genre: Physical Theatre

Venue: The Corn Exchange Brighton


Low Down

Bold, unique, exciting imagery and highly skilled performers. Just do your research before you go!


A spectre in bold monochrome, splashed black paint, a blizzard of newspaper, glasses, shoes,  children holding hands, impressionist brush strokes performed for us live as we sit tantalisingly close to the action breathing the images, scenes and metaphors that emerge before our eyes. This piece celebrates the power of image and object to move and stir.
For over a decade Dmitry Krymov, the Russian stage designer and painter born in 1954, has directed in close collaboration with a group of design students from the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts. These projects have established him an influential and multi award winning theatre maker.
There was a buzz at the Brighton Festival as some people witnessed for the first time this design centred theatre style which is so distinctly part of the culture that is Russian physical visual theatre.
We begin with a lyrical and starkly beautiful sung requiem to the Jews of Eastern Europe. The stunning vocal work and polyphonic singing by the highly skilled young performers, set the tone of thoughtful introspection. We rest on images of Russian Jews, children with glasses, a burst of surprise as an old fashioned pram rolls out of the set, is this a nod to the left wing masterpiece, Battleship for Potempkin? Then we move to piles of shoes, a clear image from the Holocaust. However the metaphors didn’t slip into each other but appeared to appear rather clunkily one after each other leaving me unsure if this as about the Holocaust or not. Call me old fashioned but I think it’s pretty important to know and as the succession of imagery did not in fact seduce me into leaving behind my linear, conscious thinking, I did indeed require to know and felt somewhat cheated and dare I say, a little bored.
During the interval the space is totally reconfigured for ‘Shostakovich’ for an exploration of the tortured life and career of the Soviet-era composer Dmitri Shostakovich. We sit all around the edges of the space. On one side, a huge red velvet curtain hangs in grand-opera style. Shostakovich as a little boy is played with great skill and charm by Anna Sinyakina wearing an oversized brown suit and round glasses.
A puppet, 17-feet tall, enters the space. We all become children in awe of this giant matriarch, her slowly blinking eye lids, enormous bosom and regal gait. As she walks in slowly, dressed in black, her weighty hips swaying with gravitas, we wait, hoping and terrified that her next move may be in our direction. But this giant Mamma, Mother Russia I believe, carries a pistol up her black lace sleeve and whilst her face remains impassive she shoots to kill.  After an execution of what appears to be the family and friends of Shostakovitch, ensues a cat and mouse chase between the giant mother and the tiny Shostakovitch, she stands still, pistol aimed whilst he runs around the whole space, finally taking solace between the feet of the audience. Cheeky and terrifying at the same time, we are definitely engaged and on a journey now.
With original music by Alexander Bakshi alongside Shostakovich’s harrowing Piano Trio No. 2 and his epic Opus No 7, grand pianos are constructed, set on fire, violently swung and smashed into each other in a cacophony of rage, confusion and fear. We see Shostakovitch run, hide, climb the chandeliers, whilst a recording of his real voice speaks of his gratitude and obligation to the Soviet Union. Finally Mother Russia cradles the frightened boy in her arms; a symbol of the nurture and love bestowed on artists under Stalin, coupled with control and terror.
In this piece the wild imagery was cohesive and formed into visual language and poetry. I wish I knew about the composers’ life and I wish the company had felt it their duty to let us into their journey a little bit more. A quick Wikipedia read and you are in for a treat but please do read the programme of this show first!
Some of the imagery of this experience will be etched in my memory for years it is beautiful and thought provoking. If a little more care had been taken to bring us along on this journey it would have been moving too.