Summerhall/ Assembly Roxy
Edinburgh 2013: Anna, a harrowing, uncomfortable drama from Badac Theatre; and Who Wants to Kill Yulia Tymoshenko?
Who Wants to Kill Yulia Tymoshenko?, Assembly Roxy
In 2008 Badac Theatre Company staged a show at the Fringe about the Holocaust which attempted to recreate the experience of the gas chambers by casting the audience as victims, herding them from room to room while screaming at them. This year, the company returns with a new play about the life and death of Anna Politkovskaya.
The Russian campaigning journalist who uncovered human rights abuses in her country, shed light on the horrors of the war in Chechnya and criticised Putin's autocratic rule in print, was shot and killed in the lift of her apartment block in October 2006. And so, in typically literal Badac style, the audience begins the play by being shoved into a lift before being lined up, standing, along the walls of a narrow white corridor.
Stalking up and down it is Anna, a petite blonde with piercing blue eyes (fiercely committed Marnie Baxter) and a story to tell. Her story is interrupted by the stories she shared with readers - of a mother whose son was tortured in the army in Chechnya, another who lost her daughter in the Moscow theatre siege.
These case studies are harrowing and dramatically told but as Anna moves from sharing stories to facing down threats from those in the armed forces and government who would have her silenced, the play descends into an ear-splitting 20 minutes of foul abuse.
This is an important piece but it is also hysterical and parodically uncomfortable to watch. That, Badac would argue, is the point but there is something glib about making an audience suffer a little in order to understand the unimaginable suffering of another. If Politkovskaya was silenced so violently in life, is screaming obscenities over her voice the best way for theatre to tell her story after death? I don't believe it is.
Who Wants to Kill Yulia Tymoshenko? is a quieter, more traditional piece but it suffers from the opposite problem - of being underpowered.
It takes place in the cell where the former Ukrainian Prime Minister and co-leader of the Orange Revolution has been imprisoned since 2011.
Jakov Sedlar's play opens with a montage of real-life footage of Tymoshenko which sets the scene for a hagiographic hour. Yulia, played by Ines Wurth in a distracting blonde plaited wig, shares her cell with Lina (Katarina Arbanas), a prostitute accused of murdering her pimp. Through their conversations, we piece together a picture of modern Ukraine but while Lina's story and the relationship between the two women is potentially intriguing, Tymoshenko's clunky tirades suck the life out of a real-life political drama.
Anna, to 25 August (0845 874 3001); Yulia, to 25 August (0131 623 3030)
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