The Belarus’ Free Theatre are far from being your average bunch of luvvies. The company is currently banned in their home nation, their political views anathema to an authoritarian regime largely in lockstep with Russia, and all their cast has seen the inside of a police cell at one time or another.
This has led the BFT to having to be creative when putting together and demonstrating new work. As told by the co-directors Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, rehearsals for this play by the double-digit cast took place in the US embassy’s 2-car garage and initial performances were in a Minsk warehouse under a gym; when those above dropped a weight on the floor, the cast and audience would be sprayed with ceiling plaster.
Dogs of Europe is based on a book by Alhierd Bacharevic which (you guessed it) is also banned by the government. The first half features a mish-mash of skits and absurdist scenes, many of which only make sense later on when a more linear plot brings together the various strands. Great use is made of projections in place of set design and to show English subtitles, saving eyeballs from having to swivel all the way upward to the Barbican surtitles.
Actor Aliaksei Naranovich is at the literal centre of this play: as well as playing a key role in both halves, he spends the whole interval running around a 4m-wide circle while naked. He is supported by an energetic cast who deploy slapstick, song and dance to enliven a plot which often fails to hold the attention.
There are plentiful references to Ukraine, both playfully in passing (“Russian warship, go fuck yourself” is flashed up at one point) and at the end when an impassioned plea is made to help those affected by the current situation. It is impossible to ignore the political relevance of this work and there are many elements which resonate long after the curtain comes down.
The Dogs of Europe, Barbican Theatre.
Image: Linda Nylind