Being Harold Pinter | Belarus Free TheatrePhotos - Trent O'Donnell

This Russian play with English subtitles is worth persevering with. It is quite a challenge watching the actors on stage and reading the subtitles above which often move too quickly. It is easy to become disengaged with the actors on stage as you struggle to keep up with the text.

Don’t panic! There is no need to memorize Harold’s Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize winning speech from which excerpts are taken or know Pinter’s complete works backwards so you can follow the action on stage. You are slowly drawn into a strange world of oppression.

Being Harold Pinter begins with excerpts from Pinters’ speech interspersed with condensed versions from his plays, One for the Road, The Homecoming, Old times, Ashes to Ashes and The New World Order. These are all works Pinter wrote in the latter part of his career when his plays turned political and explored issues like torture and freedom of speech.

It is the underlying menace of talkative interrogators that is portrayed so compellingly in this play. The tension underneath absurd and even comical banter has been a strength of Pinter’s, going back to his second play the Birthday Party in 1957. It was the frightening menace which no doubt caught the attention of Belarus Free Theatre.

Belarus is a European country which shares a border with Russia. Since the election of President Alexander Lukashenko in 1994, the country has become a dictatorship. Protestors who oppose him have been arrested and detained without trial. There has also been a number of politically motivated killings and kidnappings.

Formed in 2005, the Belarus Free Theatre is banned in its own country. Shows are held in private apartments and audience members are notified via email or SMS. The company now has the support of Mick Jagger, Sir Tom Stoppard and, until his death last Christmas Eve, Harold Pinter himself.

As you’d expect with work devised under such difficult conditions, the staging is simple but at times, incredibly powerful. Ashes to Ashes climaxes with the actors enclosed in a perspex sheet which flaps wildly and literally sounds like thunder.

The second half links Pinter’s plays to events in the real world. There are visual references to Abu-Ghraib. and excerpts from letters written by political prisoners in Belarus. The final scene is set in a prison with the stage in total darkness and only torch lights used.

If you find yourself just not getting parts of this play, that’s ok. It might be to do with allowing yourself the occasional glance on stage while you read the subtitles. Also when a performance is in another language it is hard to pick up all the intonations in the actors’ voices that create tension. We are all familiar with scenes of interrogations in small rooms carried out by men in military uniform. When the interrogation is moved to a square on a black stage and the tormentors are suited up and talk in very roundabout ways, the audiences feels as frightened and confused as the prisoners themselves. This is the great strength of the theatre of the absurd.

Sydney Festival and Company B in association with Q Theatre Company present
Belarus Free Theatre
Being Harold Pinter
Adapted and Directed by Vladimir Scherban

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre
Dates/Times: January 6–10, 28–31 at 8pm, January 11, February 1 at 5pm, January 10, 31 at 2pm
Duration: 1hr 15mins
Tickets*: Adults $56, Seniors /Groups (10) $46, Concession $34 | *Booking and transaction fees may apply
Bookings: 02 9699 3444

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