discover love

Discover Love

Belarus Free Theatre (BLR)

Powerhouse Visy Theatre

I adore the Visy theatre. It’s that “just right” Mama Bear sized space for very special stories. What a perfectly intimate space it is for Discover Love: a heart-wrenching, horrifying, bittersweet, beautiful story, based on actual events, from the world’s most political theatre company. If you wanted to see this show in Belarus, where it’s a crime to speak out against just about everything, you would have to know somebody who knew where it was being staged. Audiences are directed to secret performance spaces using SMS and word-of-mouth. Belarus theatre workers (and their audiences) have gone underground…it’s rave theatre and I’m grateful it’s a novelty in this country – “The Lucky Country” – and not a necessity.

The Lucky Country indeed. In cruel contrast, enforced disappearances, abductions, kidnappings and torture are rife in Belarus. In fact, politically motivated people have been disappearing, all over the world, since Nazi Germany’s Nacht und Nebel Decree of 1941. They speak out (or murmur something quietly at a party or at their workplace) and suddenly they simply disappear. Relatives of those who have disappeared have said that the pain of losing their loved one is the most acute a person can experience. There is no knowing whether or not the person is alive or dead. There is only the knowledge that they are being mistreated for their beliefs.

Directed by Mikalai Khalezin, Discover Love is the true story of Irina Krasovskaya and her husband, Anatoly, told from the point of view of Ira. She reveals how, in the midst of a near-perfect marriage and a beautiful life, Toly was abducted and murdered for his assistance to the democratic body of Belarus. It’s a love story turned political story turned human story. And it pangs, though not at first. At first, Ira shares tenderly and generously, the words bubbling over one another in her impatience to paint each picture, stories told by her grandmother and remembers, fondly, evenings spent around the radio, the spritely, contented Jewish neighbours who dance and cook and smile, and (not so fondly) her diffident father, who stomps into the tiny apartment in his heavy military boots and goes again, leaving a paper bag of candy – not the chocolates Ira preferred – on the kitchen table (“A father should know what his daughter likes!”).

Pavel Gorodnitski, who steps into a number of secondary roles, also has the heavy duty of playing a traditional clay pipe (like an ocarina), to open and close the show, establishing that, although based on real events, the story to which we are privy is a play; a piece of theatre.

The actors offer energetic, heart-filled performances, all joy and strength, demonstrating a deep connection to their story and to each other; we see it during a delightful tango, choreographed by Olga Skvortsova. We breathe in with Ira, the fantastic fragrance of fresh oranges (a rare treat in so many cold countries), spilling from their plywood box, setting up some wholly sensory theatre. I always hope to experience more of this (and we do, during Neil Armfield’s production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll). It’s whole theatre, like the notion of the whole child in education, catering for every sense, every aspect of the experience. This simple joy, however, is masterfully transformed into fear and horror, as the assassin crushes the oranges underfoot on the day of Toly’s abduction, turning a symbol of goodness and beauty into a senseless, merciless act.

The space starts out clean and simple, the changing of bed linen used to bookend each chapter of the story; like the fairy bell to turn the page in your favourite Disney book, pretty handmade quilts projected onto a screen, above which are surtitles. A note on surtitles/subtitles: It often feels like we’re missing something, flicking between words and actors; missing something of the actors when having to read the surtitles or missing the precise meaning of the words whilst watching the actors. Like sitting back in our seats and tuning into the language of Shakespeare, it’s possible to follow both. It takes practice, which indicates that we should all see more foreign theatre, films and Shakespeare. (There is no shortage of great Shakespeare in Brisbane this year)! I love language – I feel sure I spoke plenty of languages in a previous life – and it was wonderful to hear the lilt and sharp edges of the Russian along with some beautiful Belarusian.

Despite Ira’s laments, Discover Love is such a light, lovely story for so long. There’s a feminine quality to the telling of it, so much innocence and joy, which is not entirely lost but becomes, unsurprisingly, a great deal darker as political events impact more directly upon the family. Harsh, interrogative lighting replaces the softer, gentler glow of happier times.

The concluding prayer, accompanied by projected images of protestors holding photographs of those who had disappeared, got me. And it got the majority of the audience, visibly, audibly; we were moved beyond words – I literally could not speak to anybody after the show about what we’d just been through together  – and a sense of solidarity was established, in a moment of sympathy and compassion for these people, whose lives are unimaginable horror. Then the audience left the sacred space of the Visy and we made our way upstairs to the bar… and what did we do with those feelings when we left? What feeling remains, long after the show is over? What now?

This is life-affecting theatre. Whether or not it’s life changing is up to the individual.





2 Responses to “discover love”

  1. 1 cathy sheargold
    February 28, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    This was the most fun I have had at the theatre in such a long time! The Seven Ages of Man took my breath away!

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