Review: Time of Women with the Belarus Free Theatre

If any theatre group knows how to spread a message, it’s the Belarus Free Theatre. Kicking off their tenth anniversary festival Staging a Revolution two weeks ago, the group took political refuge in the UK after being forced out of their country by dictatorship.

The initial performances, which included Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis and Generation Jeans by co-founder Nikolai Khalezin, were held in undisclosed locations; attendance was only admitted once the recipient received a text message with an agreed meeting point, and ticket-holders were asked to bring their passports with them, a custom upheld in Belarus underground theatre should anyone be arrested. The festival came to a close in the Young Vic, BFT’s home for the last four years, with Being Harold PinterKing Lear and Time of Women.

Maryia Sazonava as Irina Khalip and Maryna Yurevich as Natalya Radina. Credit: Nicolai Khalezin

Maryia Sazonava as Irina Khalip and Maryna Yurevich as Natalya Radina. Credit: Nicolai Khalezin

In the smaller, downstairs theatre of the Young Vic, Time of Women took to a stage bedecked with a Christmas tree on one side, a desk on the other, and a box – which would soon be revealed as a prison cell – in the centre. The heroes were three women imprisoned for protesting against the apparent rigging of Alexander Lukashenko’s 2010 presidential win, and were played by Maryna Yurevich, Maryia Sazonava and Yana Rusakevich. The play followed a simple structure: each woman would, in turn, divulge her experiences in prison, then we would see how she and the other two women coped within the cell, and then she would be interrogated and bribed by a prison official, played by Kiryl Kanstantsinau. This structure allowed small insights into her life as a free woman, an imprisoned woman, and a woman facing freedom at a cost.

Though simple in concept, the meaning did occasionally slip away, befuddled at times by the poetic language and complex symbolism that didn’t quite ring true of their characters. It is also important to note at this point, that the play was entirely in Russian, with subtitles projected above and either side of the stage. This would not have caused an issue, had it not been for a technical fault halfway through; the subtitles stopped working for about ten minutes, rendering most of us feeling completely alienated from a play that was already battling with challenging concepts.

That aside, it was a moving play, with each of the women providing standout performances that brought forth the fear and passion felt by those arrested – an event that drew the world’s attention and was reprimanded by artistic figureheads, Ian McKellen among them. Though the festival has now closed, the BFT continues to stage plays of rebellion against injustice in a country so close to home. In this way, it might be beneficial for KS4-5 students to get a feel for theatre with a cause; Time of Women proved that challenging concepts could be met with simplistic design and structure, and political theatre is seldom touched upon in drama classrooms. However, I would not recommend BFT as suitable for anyone below KS4; the subtitles were fast-paced and the potentially controversial themes – though no doubt the driving force behind the group – may be difficult to grapple with among younger students.

Plymouth Barbican given £80,000 for renovations

The Social Enterprise Investment Fund has awarded Plymouth’s Barbican Theatre with £80,000 to go towards a new incubation hub and rehearsal studios, which will in turn create a new vibrancy around the city’s creative industries.

As a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England, the Plymouth Barbican has been garnering recognition for its work with diverse young people and new artists, since it was founded in 1980 as an outreach theatre-in-education company.Plymouth_Barbican_and_harbour

In the shadow of London’s West End, many smaller scale regional theatres often struggle to fight for funding or recognition – yet over 90,000 people visited the Barbican last year, as well as 140 young people taking part in theatre and dance workshops each week. This project will accommodate the increasing popularity of the theatre with three new custom-built rehearsal spaces and an incubation hub for young people.

‘Words cannot describe how delighted we are to have been awarded this funding,’ says Sheila Snellgrove, Company Director and co-founder of Plymouth’s Barbican Theatre. ‘Thanks to their investment, we will be able to create eight new jobs for young people in the creative industries, boosting the local economy and contributing to the city’s ambition to increase graduate retention.’

Councillor Chris Penberthy added that ‘Barbican Theatre has encouraged hundreds of young people into theatre – not just actors, but producers, engineers and technical staff. Barbican Theatre is very important for the work they do to involve those who feel left out of the mainstream and for the next generation they nurture. We are pleased to be able to invest in the growth of the Barbican Theatre, allowing them to continue doing more of what they do and bring disused premises back to life.’

Dame Judi Dench: red lights ‘all over the theatre’

Following Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent lamentations about audience members recording and taking pictures of theatre productions (see Teaching Drama, Autumn 1), it seems that the problem Judi_Dench_at_the_BAFTAs_2007had failed to switch off.

The latest actor to bring to light the increasing problem of smart phone users not turning off their devices during performances, Dame Judi Dench has expressed concerns over poor theatre conduct. ‘I can’t see well,’ she told the Sunday Times Culture magazine, ‘but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs.’

Currently starring as Paulina in Kenneth Branagh’s The Winter’s Tale at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End, Dench’s call for audience members to cease mobile phone usage comes following a similar plea from Cumberbatch to fans outside the Barbican. Kevin Spacey has also criticised poor theatre etiquette, following an audience member’s phone ringing, and James McAvoy halted a performance of Macbeth to stop someone filming. Perhaps most absurd of these cases, however, took place earlier this year on New York’s Broadway, when a man jumped on stage during Hand of God to charge his phone on set.

National Theatre of Scotland announces three-year trilogy to commemorate WWI

As their tenth anniversary approaches, the National Theatre of Scotland have announced a three-year trilogy of plays to commemorate the centenary years of the First World War, entitled The 306.

NTS-logoThe 306 will pay homage to soldiers shot for cowardice or desertion during the First World War, and will begin with Dawn. Set in France during the Battle of the Somme, Oliver Emanuel’s play will be staged in a rural Perthshire barn between 21 May – 11 June 2016, with the two remaining parts staged in 2017 and 2018 to mark the end of the Great War.

Each part of the trilogy will explore the lives of the ‘unknown soldiers’ whose names are absent from British war memorials. The NTS says that this will ‘give them back their voices, stories and names.’

Artistic Director Laurie Sansom will direct the trilogy in a co-production with Perth Theatre. Though a seemingly formidable task, Sansom appears unfazed. ‘We are dedicated to creating projects that truly reflect the ambitions of Scotland’s artists,’ she says. Further information is due to be released soon.

Stagetext celebrates 15 years with Captioning Awareness Week

Captioning charity Stagetext will be marking its 15th anniversary with Captioning Awareness Week from 9–15 November, which will include captioned and live subtitled theatre performances.

Theatre Royal, Stratford East

Theatre Royal, Stratford East

Stagetext was established in May 2000 by Peter Pullan, Geoff Brown and Merfyn Williams and is a registered charity and regularly funded organisation of Arts Council England. It was built on the determination to improve access to the arts for those who may otherwise not usually have the opportunity to experience a live performing arts production.

With over 10 million – that’s 1 in 6 – people in the UK being deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, the theatre can often seem inaccessible. Stagetext is aiming to get as many theatres, museums and art galleries involved as possible. Current captioned events include Anita & Me at Theatre Royal Stratford East and a Royal Academy of Arts talk on the Ai Wei Wei exhibition.

To get involved, Stagetext is encouraging people to take to social media with the phrase ‘I’m #CAPaware’. More information about the event, and the performances taking part, can be found at

#LoveTheatreDay 2015

This year’s #LoveTheatreDay, which celebrates all things stage-related, is to take place on 18 November.

Made In Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre Photo: Tristram Kenton

Made In Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre
Photo: Tristram Kenton

The Twitter event highlights the activities of theatre organisations, helps to forge new relationships, and creates a positive buzz around the art form.

This celebration of theatre comes at a time when its future is under threat, with the threat of cuts posing an uncertain future.

As well as the overall #LoveTheatreDay hashtag, there will be three more to highlight specific areas for discussion throughout the day:

  • #BackStage (10am–12pm) offers audiences and other arts professionals a look behind the scenes.
  • #AskATheatre (3–5pm) offers the chance to pose questions to individuals and groups working in theatre.
  • #Showtime (7–10pm) will offer the chance to experience performances via Twitter.

Theatres or theatre groups which sign up for the event will receive an information pack with tips on how to prepare.

Frantic Assembly launches production archive at British Library

Frantic Assembly, who have been making waves for 21 years, are opening a production footage archive at the British Library, an event which will be marked by a panel discussion in the library’s Eliot Room on Tuesday 10 November at 5.45pm. The discussion will be led by Artistic Director Scott Graham and Mark Evans, Associate Dean at Coventry University.Main_entrance,

Cited as ‘the most innovative and progressive theatre company around’ by The Times, Frantic Assembly was founded by Graham in 1994 with Vicki Middleton and Steven Hoggett, and has been winning awards and creating new foundations for theatre-makers ever since. The company is currently studied across exam boards such as AQA and Edexcel as leading contemporary theatre practitioners.

The launch of the archives will be a testament to the international success of the company, which has toured 30 different countries worldwide and regularly sells out at the Fringe. The event will comprise a two-part conversation featuring artistic and academic guests, and will be aimed at teachers, academics, educationalists, theatre enthusiasts and students.

Following the discussion will be a Q&A and complimentary refreshments. Further information and booking can be found at

Joey the War Horse takes on China

Following the sad news that Joey the War Horse will be leaving London’s West End in March 2016 (see Teaching Drama Autumn 2 for full article), the Beijing National Theatre is staging the award-winning production, after more than two years of translating the script and working with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company to bring Joey to China.War_Horse_(8570050337)

Producer Li Dong of China’s National Theatre first saw the show in 2011, two years after it moved to the West End from the Olivier Theatre, and decided he wanted to bring it to China. What followed was a collaborative project that involved navigating language barriers to translate the script.

‘The shape of the story is the same, but we had to work on the translation, the script and the songs to make the play resonate with Chinese audiences,’ says director Alex Sims. ‘We found out the problem here was general knowledge of Europe. You know, China wasn’t familiar with Europe, the French language and the German language. But working with the Chinese directing team and the translator, we managed to find Chinese idioms to fill in where something was colloquially English or French or German.

‘We’re lucky to have wonderful translators who have retained the show’s funny and touching points in a way that Chinese people can understand.’

The National Theatre in China worked hard to find a group of puppeteers fit for the job of keeping the authenticity of Joey alive, auditioning 1000 applicants for just 19 places to man the 185lb puppet of Joey, which takes three people to operate. Each successful puppeteer was required to read the handbook How to Think Like a Horse while also staying on a farm for two weeks to study the way horses move.

Puppet director Liu Xiaoyi often steps in as Joey’s head when puppet master Tommy Luther is not in China. ‘We worked out how the horses walk,’ says Xiaoyi. ‘There’s a rhythm, a certain point where a part of the horse has to pick up a step otherwise it doesn’t look right. We slowly examined every tiny movement such as when a horse is frightened or worried.’

The result has been vastly successful; on a recent trip to Beijing, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne said of the performance, ‘I’m so impressed. It was incredible.’ The first performance was in Beijing on 4 September, and runs until 31 October, before moving to Shanghai between 15 November-17 January, and then to Guangzhou between 8 March-3 May. 

New Issue Out Now!

TDAU2_1516_001_Cover A01.indd

Weigh in to the debate on theatre censorship in our Autumn 2 issue. With teachers often hesitant to push boundaries because of the danger of repercussions, we debate the possibilities for taking a little risk with subject matter and examine whether the only way to secure funding is to create safe art. Plus, five ways to enhance your professional development; Nigel Williams explores the experiences to be gained from teaching in the United States and the positive effects moving overseas for actor training can have on students; how the Trinity College London Arts Award is encouraging thousands to pursue their dramatic interests and the benefits for teachers who qualify to advise them; The Improvisation Academy; participation programmes at The Pleasance Theatre Company; and audition technique and preparation advice for securing a place at a UK drama school.

Buy the print here.

Buy the digital print here.

Intermission Youth Theatre to stage play inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Intermission Youth Theatre, a drama group set up with the intention of engaging inner-city communities with theatre, is soon to stage Rise and Fall, a new play inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Boasting patronage from actor Mark Rylance, who is currently starring in the Globe’s Farinelli and the King, the aim of IYT is to reach out to disadvantaged

Patron Mark Rylance onstage at Shakespeare's Globe

Patron Mark Rylance onstage at Shakespeare’s Globe

youth groups at risk of offending.

Artistic Director Darren Raymond’s Rise and Fall features a group of students unwilling to participate in Julius Caesar during Shakespeare week at school. It is revealed that a transfer student from a rival school may have been involved in the death of a classmate the previous summer, and parallels with Julius Caesar begin to unravel.

Raymond had been in jail for three years when he was given the opportunity to sign up for a course with the London Shakespeare Workout, which ‘utilised the language of Shakespeare as a tool, a stepping stone to change through effective interaction.’ As a result, Raymond works with ex-offenders and young people at risk of offending, to provide new platforms for aspiring actors that otherwise lack the utilities available to others.

‘Intermission is the most exciting young people’s theatre company I have ever witnessed,’ says Rylance. ‘Not only are their productions witty and original, but you feel they are using Shakespeare to reveal their own culture of youth growing up in London today. I love this company and greatly admire all they do.’

Rise and Fall runs from 28 October – 21 November at St Saviour’s Church in London, and features a talk after each production, with tickets costing £15 (concessions available). For further information visit