Belarus Free Theatre seeks funding to avoid closure

The Belarus Free Theatre troupe faces closure in three months unless it gets significant funding, warns its founder.

Members of the company arrived in the UK yesterday for a performance at Shakespeare's Globe in London in Belarusian – a language that is banned in Europe's last dictatorship.

Natalia Koliada formed the company with her husband Nikolai Khalezin in 2005. She said: "We don't know what will happen ... we appeal to everyone to save us."

It needs about £200,000 a year to pay staff and cover costs, and raise funds from small and large donors to produce shows.

"We need global funds by the middle of June or ... the Belarus Free Theatre may stop," she said.

The group performs in secret in Belarus as it seeks to raise awareness of the repressive regime of neo-Soviet President Alexander Lukashenko.

Yesterday, 10 Free Theatre actors and students arrived in London from Minsk to start rehearsals for a forthcoming production of King Lear.

This forms part of the Globe-to-Globe project – Shakespeare productions by 37 international companies, each presenting the plays in a different language.

Koliada and Khalezin live in the UK with political refugee status after fleeing Belarus in 2010, but have kept in contact with Belarus and started early preparations with actors using Skype. They will rehearse in the Old Vic Tunnels, after support from Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey.

This is the first time the company has performed Shakespeare. "No one will ever have seen a production of King Lear like it," Koliada said.

The play will be performed in Belarusian, she said. The use of the language is significant. The country's official language is Russian.

"It is important. Our language is prohibited, it is only taught underground. If you speak Belarusian, it says you are democratic," she said.

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