Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Theatre review: Red Forest

"I am not a stereotype!" says a Native American man, shortly before waving his feathered stick around, performing a rain dance and telling a story about a shaman and a peace pipe. Moving on from their niche examining life in a dictatorship, Belarus Free Theatre explore environmental issues in Red Forest, although if the publicity hadn't clarified that it might not have been immediately apparent. Taking place on a central sandpit flanked by shallow pools of water, this is a heavily movement-based piece devised by the company, following a research trip around the world collecting mythology and what they like to call "real human stories." As opposed to the kinds of stories told by animals or bits of string. These testimonies are either played back, or spoken into microphones by members of the cast, to provide a commentary to the central story of an Earth-mother figure (Michal Keyamo) carrying her baby - or sometimes babies - around the world, facing a number of perils.

In their dance-infused style, the company take the Earth-mother from African drought to the 2011 Japanese tsunami, from the risk of radiation poisoning in Chernobyl to sexual assault by Spanish soldiers.

Belarus Free Theatre are capable of creating some very strong visuals, not always featuring hot shirtless men although that doesn't hurt. But their narrative for Red Forest is beyond confused, and far from the multimedia elements complementing each other the actors, video and narration often seem to contradict one another. So mid-scene the captions will tell us we've moved from Liberia to Japan, to Morocco, to Brazil, to Belarus, to Spain then back to Brazil again, all in what we were told was a Nigerian fable.

I suppose there's some originality in Belarus Free Theatre managing to get through an entire show without wasting food or getting naked (although if Francesco Petruzzelli wishes to correct this oversight he can see me after class.)

But the show's environmental message never gets far beyond "destroying the planet's bad, m'kay?" and the use of Native Americans and Africans as somehow more spiritually connected to the earth wraps the show up in patronising cliché.

Red Forest by Belarus Free Theatre is booking until the 5th of July at the Young Vic's Maria.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.

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