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Theatre Review: Inside Pussy Riot @ Saatchi Gallery

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Olivier-nominated theatre company Les Enfants Terribles, in collaboration with one of the founding members of the Pussy Riot group, Nadya Tolokonnikova, bring Inside Pussy Riot to the Saatchi Gallery.

Image courtesy of Kenny Mathieson

Image courtesy of Kenny Mathieson

This immersive performance aims to parallel Nadya’s experience of imprisonment for hooliganism following the ‘guerrilla performance’ at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February 2012 that brought the group to prominence.

The set is a combination of spaces within this pseudo-reality, which has been camped-up to near grotesque levels, aiming to take the audience on Nadya’s journey from the controversial performance to the cell in which she served her sentence. Navigating in small groups, the spectators are encouraged to don balaclavas, engage in their political protest of choice and experience the consequences of doing so in the world of a fictional totalitarian regime.

Whilst the intention to spur spectators into action is crystal clear, the production fails to evoke the emotional response required for its own success. This in part is due to the confused direction, where styles clash and consequently neutralise each other. The actors operate within Berkoffian-meets-pantomime level, whilst the overall narrative chooses to take a Brechtian distance, occasionally reminding the audience that this is a production, and that we still have the freedom of choice within this world.

Each of these styles on their own would have resulted in a far more effective production closer to the aim of Inside Pussy Riot, however as we are constantly brought back to reality, the hyperbolic action shifts to comedy, which seems counter-productive to its message and the entire concept of an immersive production.

Given the subject that the production tackles, the stakes for the spectators are simply not high enough – the punishments for rebelling against the narrative are ill-enforced, if at all. The production should have limited the audience’s choices, or prepared accordingly for the eventualities of giving them the freedom to defy. Unfortunately, it did neither.

Despite this, the commitment of the actors throughout is consistent and unyielding – considering that multiple groups are moving throughout this world in staggered slots, to maintain the energy required is commendable. The visual reality that Les Enfants Terribles have created is vivid, conceptual and fully-realised. It is disappointing that the production was plagued with problems such as sound leaking from other rooms due to a lack of suitable insulation, or at times the door not being closed properly.

Inside Pussy Riot simply does not hold the gravity it demands, which in turn flatlines its entire sentiment. Given the budget and opportunity at hand, the short-comings stem from the lack of stylistic clarity – it aims for a middle point that it ultimately misses.

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