Гастроли театров «Ложа» и «Бабы» в театре «Ройял Корт» (Майкл Биллингтон)
The Guardian (8-03-2002)


Michael Billington
Friday March 8, 2002
The Guardian

Driving home from the Royal Court, I heard an excellent report on The World Tonight about human rights abuses in Chechnya that referred, in passing, to the death of 3,000 Russian soldiers in that forgotten war. What brought this into even sharper focus was that I had just seen an impressive double-bill from Siberia, as part of the Court's International Playwrights season, the second half of which consisted largely of letters to and from the Chechen front.

One of the Court's aims is to encourage young companies to develop work based on verbatim testimony. In the case of Soldiers' Letters, which is presented by an all-female group from Chelyabinsk called Babii, this bears rich fruit. Four women, stripping down to military vest and shorts, wittily puncture pompous military ceremonies and read out letters to and from military conscripts. One mother grieves over her son's three- month silence, another over her boy's nervous breakdown. A male soldier writes from Chechnya to his girl that “every day is Gestapo day here”, while a female conscript describes clearing away stinking corpses.

Since September 11, the war in Chechnya has been all but ignored in the west. This marvellous troupe, under the direction of Elena Kaloujskikh, reminds us of its continuing human cost with stinging clarity.

Preceding it is a less urgent but perfectly entertaining piece called The Coalfield, staged by Theatre Lozhe from Kemerovo. It consists of testimony taken from three Siberian miners who talk animatedly about their life and work. Having described the technical process of “winning coal”, they go on to discuss more personal matters. One tells how he jilted his fiancee after a peculiarly hectic stag night; another recalls how his boozy father pretended his wife had left him in order to take the kids on a free-spending binge. Sometimes you wish that cryptic questions — particularly why gays and Jews don't work in the mines — had been followed up. But the three actors, under the direction of Konstantin Galdaev, are a pleasure to watch. And, with the aid of Sasha Dugdale's simultaneous translation, both imports demonstrate theatre's vastly underrated power to inform as well as entertain.

Ї Until March 9. Box office: 020—7565  5000.

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