Live and remember

‘Blindage’ by Elena Popova opens at Young Spectators’ Theatre in Minsk
‘Blindage’ by Elena Popova opens at Young Spectators’ Theatre in Minsk.

Summer is a traditional time for first nights, closing the theatrical season. We can say now that it was successful and presented many new discoveries.
The two main premieres of the year — ‘Wedding’ by Vladimir Pankov at the National Academic Yanka Kupala Theatre, and ‘Race’ by Sergey Kovalchik at the National Academic Drama Theatre (named after M.Gorky) — widely differ in form, content and solution. Both have found their audience and lived up to expectation.

It’s obvious that our two main theatres have different visions for the future and are presenting alternate trends. While Pankov guides the Kupalovsky Theatre towards a synthesis of genres and light postmodern irony, Kovalchik adheres to the unveiling of the psyche at the Russian Theatre — with no allowances for current fashions.

Their stagings are accompanied by a new, original and insolent work by Valery Anisenko, the Art Director of the Theatre of Belarusian Drama. His ‘When the War Ends’ by young Pavel Priazhko is dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Liberation of Belarus from the Nazis. It boasts extreme realism (Priazhko is one of the brightest Belarusian representatives of contemporary or ‘new’ drama). His sincere, energetic messages balance any shortcomings. European audiences — especially those in Germany — will be enthralled. We congratulate the Young Spectators’ Theatre on having a fine appreciation of themes eternally at the heart of theatrical Europe.

There have been few aesthetic breakthroughs for the Young Spectators’ Theatre though. Director Natalya Basheva presented her new work, dedicated to the war, at the end of the season — aimed at young viewers. ‘Blindage’ — by one of the most famous and significant playwrights of our time, Elena Popova — is inventive, with twists and turns of plot. The topic of time and relations with a human is dominant in ‘Blindage’. Her reconsideration of the theme of war in this way could gain popularity. The heroes of the adventure film ‘We Are From The Future’ — Russian teenagers enthusiastic about archeology — find themselves on the front line of 1942. Meanwhile, those in ‘Blindage’ (energetic Marina and phlegmatic Pavel) parachute into backwoods to discover three soldiers awaiting reinforcements. One is Lieutenant Prokhorov, an experienced sergeant and dedicated radio operator. In fact, it is the brave soldiers who have become lost in time, not realising that they have travelled to the 21st century. The playwright states: “Time is not a river. Time is a tricky thing with many corners and pockets, without past or future. Everything is mixed and kept — as money at a bank.” The translation of the play by famous Belarusian writer, editor-in-chief of ‘Maladosts’ magazine Raisa Borovikova, is brilliant.

Our heroes discover the difference between young people of the 1940s and those of today — who often reject public morality. They discuss the mysteries of life. ‘Blindage’ is dynamic, continuing popular technological theatre trends: video shots of nightlife in a big city, military chronicles and soldiers’ portraits interrupt dialogues of the main characters.

The audience accepts the rules of the game with pleasure. Of course, the play is educational but it also reminds us that war affects us on every level. The memory of generations is a common, boiling ocean. The playwright and stage director assert that cynicism from the younger generation may be a defense reaction. Such attitudes are superficial and acquired, not innate — so can be broken. We simply need to take hearts and souls back to an understanding of the past — as we would look at an old family album.

Ms. Popova’s ‘Blindage’ has been staged not only in Belarus, but in several Russian theatres, to popular acclaim. Russian critics, disliking the German characters in the play, are well-disposed towards it!

Some time ago, Elena Popova assessed contemporary society in her play ‘Breakfast On the Grass’ — full of bitterness and hopelessness. It was steeped in a desperate atmosphere of apocalypse and cataclysm. The characters — people of middle-age — were hostages to an insane world. Moral failure is usually shown as existential tragedy but this play sees tragedy as situational: the heroes cannot escape a secret zone. We don’t know the origin of this zone: the result of an accident or military exercise. Like anti-utopia stories of the late 1980s, Ms. Popova shows us that difficulties are not external; they reside in our human soul. We must know ourselves in order to follow a true path into the future; time is not a river but an ocean of lives, destinies and energy. We cannot afford to lose our way but, if we do, must find our own way to shore. Elena admonishes us to draw on our inner strength — like the heroes of ‘Blindage’.

Valentin Pepeliaev
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