Tag: Russia

neat14: Chilling performance weaves a web of intrigue around Litvinenko

Tea annyone?

Tea anyone?

I can remember all too clearly the footage of Alexander Litvinenko as he lay dying in a hospital bed in 2006 having apparently been poisoned with a lethal dose of polonium-210. In a speech, read out on his behalf, the former Russian security agent, who had been working for MI6 and the Spanish secret service, pointed the finger squarely at president Vladimir Putin and his cronies. Very little is known about the circumstances of his death. We know that he went for tea with two Russian men at a hotel in London but since then the trail has gone cold and an inquest is yet to open.

The scant facts about his life form the basis of 2Magpies’ latest production, The Litvinenko Project which I saw last week as part of neat14. Performed at Edin’s café, this is a piece of site-responsive theatre which made full use of its environment. We are shown to a table by Tom Barnes and Matt Wilks, the duo behind 2Magpies, and told to help ourselves to the pot of green tea on the table – something which that took on a sinister quality that Litvinenko had gone out for tea just before he was murdered.

We are then introduced to Litvinenko the man. We learn that he is a husband to Marina and a father to a young boy called Anatoli. He loves to dance the tango and having lived in London he is acutely aware of the differences between Russian and British cultures, not least the difference in tea drinking customs: the British brew theirs in teapots for a short period of time while the Russians allow theirs to stew in a samovar until it becomes highly concentrated. But his daily routine of eating breakfast with his family is interrupted by an ominous voice repeating over and over again one of things we truly know: “Alexander Litvinenko is going to die.”

What follows is a tremendously energetic yet chilling piece of theatre. Matt and Tom play every role but they draw the audience in, asking them to take on different parts and by the end we were all – quite literally –  bound up in this web of intrigue. There was no stage set but the props, which included a raw chicken, a mop and a samovar which doubled as a football trophy, were cleverly used and the dialogue, at times reminiscent of a court case or detective story, was superb. Meanwhile, the public setting also added to the strength of this performance and there was a real feeling that anything could happen. From downstairs I could hear the everyday conversations of the customers drift upwards which contrasted well with the dark nature of the play. Indeed, it made me think of all the people in London who had no idea that a Cold War-era style murder was being plotted until it was too late.

Just before the play started, Tom told us that The Litvinenko Project had been evolving over a period of around six months and during that time Russia had rarely been out of the news. From the arrest of the politically-charged band Pussy Riot, to the anti-homosexuality laws and the recent invasion of Ukraine, suspicion the West is growing increasingly suspicious of Russia – and The Litvinenko is becoming even more relevant. Let’s hope it is performed again in the near future.

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Nottingham gets ready to host neat14

boleroAfter a three-year hiatus, the Nottingham European Arts and Theatre Festival (neat14) is making a welcome return to the city this month. Taking place at a variety of artistic spaces, including Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham Contemporary and Broadway, the 10-day festival showcases ground-breaking theatre, art, film and dance. This year’s event, which opens on 23rd May, draws inspiration from the centenary of the start of the First World War, a conflict which has shaped the landscape of Europe.

This idea is explored in Michael Pinchbeck’s Bolero, which opens at Nottingham Playhouse on 31st May. The play begins with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, which sparked the First World War, and takes the audience on a journey through to the Bosnian War of 1994 and the present day. One of the key events during this period was the Sarajevo Winter Olympics when Nottingham figure skaters Torvill and Dean beat the odds to win gold for their ‘perfect six’ Bolero routine. But there is no triumphant finale; we learn that eight years later the stadium in which they performed was destroyed during the Balkans conflict. Throughout the play, Bolero, the piece of music written by Ravel in 1928, acts as a leitmotif linking together these events.

The Litvinenko Project, which will be performed in various venues including Lee Rosy’s, Cast and Edin’s, is a piece of site-responsive theatre by Nottingham-based 2Magpies. It examines the fate of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security agent who died after being poisoned in 2006, claiming on his deathbed that Vladimir Putin was behind it. This production starts with three facts about Litvinenko:

  • He was a man.
  • He was a man who died.
  • He was a man who died of radiation poisoning.

It then invites the audience to speculate on his life – what he liked to drink, how he danced – because there are so few facts about the circumstances of his death. Indeed, his widow has campaigned for an inquest into his death – but this has been repeatedly delayed and she is now fighting for a public inquiry to be held. The Litvinenko Project promises to be a chilling piece of theatre, especially given the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine and the growing mistrust of Putin in the West.

Another highlight of the festival is Generation Jeans, a production by the critically-acclaimed Belarus Free Theatre which takes place at Nottingham Playhouse on 23rd and 24th May. Three years ago, the theatre group was prevented from attending neat11 because their passports and visas had been revoked by the Belarussian government (they eventually performed at the Playhouse a couple of months later). Belarus, despite bordering the EU, has been described as having ‘the last dictatorship in Europe’ and Generation Jeans, which is about jeans, rock music and freedom, highlights the similarity between the Soviet days and the current regime.

Elsewhere, Nottingham Contemporary is set to host Schrödinger, a performance piece about thought experiments, cats, René Magritte, love, time, mathematics, observations, truth, lies and alcohol while Broadway Cinema will pay tribute to French New Wave film-maker Alain Resnais, who died on 1st March this year, with a day-long course and a screening of Last Year at Marienbad.

Further details about what’s on during neat14 are available on website. You can also join in the conversation using the hashtag .

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