On September 16th 1999, Irina Krasovskaya’s successful businessman husband Anatoly Krasovsky, who was a fierce critic of Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorial regime in Belarus, left their family home to visit a sauna with his friend and prominent opposition politician Viktar Hanchar, and along with him, never returned.
16 years later, although the perpetrators of Anatoly Krasovsky’s disappearance and murder are known both to the state and to Irina Krasovskaya, the assassins have still yet to be brought to justice and the whereabouts of Anatoly Krasovsky's body remains unknown. He is just one of scores of dissidents, outspoken critics, journalists, artists and intellectuals who have been “disappeared” under Lukashenko’s rule. Her life and that of her children’s torn apart and changed forever, Irina Krasovskaya now works relentlessly for human rights, persuading political leaders to sign the UN Convention to Protect All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Numerous countries have signed up, however the US and the UK, along with Russia and China, are not among them.
Belarus Free Theatre’s 5th play in their Staging a Revolution festival, directed by Nicolai Khalezin, is based on Irina Krasovskaya’s story and is a tribute to Anatoly Krasovsky and all those who have disappeared; it’s thematic concerns, surfacing through their jaunty inventive style and poetic story telling, are love and healing.
Is healing a strange sensation to end up with over such a show which descends into such a horrific emotional landscape that many of us will never experience? It may not seem possible from the play’s premise, which follows Irina, a precocious child who grows up to meet Tolya, her physics teacher and her one serious love and who walks out of the house one day never to return. Healing is not what the narrative purposefully seems to promote, yet the staging and the imagery, when it is clear that Tolya has been murdered, gives space for it because the humour and the neighbourly love, the dressing up, colour, the fun, folk music and the ferocious energy builds to such an extent that when tragedy hits, there is nothing left onstage except physical emptiness and loss. Familiar objects- beds, chairs, colourful quilts, oranges, are dispersed and destroyed and lose their meaning. Irina’s emotional life is no longer framed within such domestic tranquilities or poetical reassurances but enters a nether world where her state of mind and emotional well being can only be described using the image of a Merry Go Round.
Tolya’s actual death, here enacted in front of the audience, gives one a sense of the incredulous. It’s like a passage in Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate, where he describes a number of victims walking to the edge of an execution pit still with hope in their eyes. They are unable, as we are in the audience are unable, to believe that someone, that anyone, will actually kill another human being. But when it happens, a dark abyss is entered. It unfurls itself and grabs you by the throat and squeezes. There’s a sense of choking and expiration.
Wrecked lives just like the stage becomes wrecked. And behind the haunted eyes of the global victims projected on the video screen are the perpetrators, some known, some not, some brought to justice, but mostly not.
Yet Discover Love is also that. Discover. Which is, in some ways, where the healing comes in: Irina’s life becomes a monument to a loved dead husband cruelly murdered for his beliefs. We see a hint of what is to come when Irina meets Tolya for nearly the first time- they sit apart, in separate chairs, barely looking at each other yet with heads inclined, the overwhelming sympathetic energy surging back and forth between them undeniable, the sense of sadness, as if a premonition of things to come, palpable on both Maryna Yurevich and Aleh Sidorchyk’s faces. It is the saddest and most terrible moment in the play. But it’s what binds and they are thrust together anyway, come what may. The exercising of how things might have been also makes this piece so powerful. Neither the real Irina nor the fictional one were present at their husband’s death. The torture for them is having to imagine it in their own minds. Some healing at least, might be brought to bear for them and for the audience, when the execution is enacted onstage in front of our eyes. It is communal healing through the imagined.
This is what surely makes Belarus Free Theatre stand out from so many other theatre companies? Their theatre- their creatives and their actors- are committed to real stories, to reliving experiences by sharing and therefore allowing a healing process to begin by having stories witnessed. This is better than any therapy offered privately or on the NHS- the process is holistic.
Last night's performance was dedicated to: Yuri Zakharenko, Victor Gonchar, Anatoliy KrasovskiyDmitriy Zavadskiy, Gennady Karpenko & Oleg Bebenin who were kidnapped and disappeared by the Belarusian State.
Discover Love is part of Belarus Free Theatre’s Staging a Revolution, a two week festival of performances and discussion platforms from Belarus Free Theatre to mark their 10th anniversary in 2015 (2-14 November).
Performances and discussions will be live-streamed here: belarusfreetheatre.com/livestreaming
performers: Maryna Yurevich, Aleh Sidorchyk, Pavel Haradnitski
written by: Nicolai Khalezin with the participation of Natalia Kaliada
directed by: Nicolai Khalezin
Live music: Laur Biarzhanin “DJ Laurel”