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6f43d9f3e6880df0a2ea80af3952b427c5e58280I’m with the Banned is the opening event of Staging A Revolution, a series of theatrical events taking place over two weeks to mark the 10th anniversary of Belarus Free Theatre. With a new logo designed by Ai Weiwei, the tone has been set for a series of thought-provoking events.

The line up is formidable in their artistic and political achievements. The majority are banned from performing in their homeland as a result of their actions, which makes I’m with the Banned a very special and poignant platform for freedom in performance. Stephanie Pan started the night with a fantastic drum solo, followed by Juliet Stevenson and Jeremy Irons reading extracts from Harold Pinter, who was the inaugural patron of Belarus Free Theatre when they arrived in London and gained political asylum. Brutto, the punk rock band, performed a high energy number, which really got the audience going. The Pet Shop Boys’s Neil Tennant performed alongside Belarus Free Theatre co-founder Nicolai Khalezin in a brilliant piece of spoken word, recounting the process of how to buy a pair of jeans without getting arrested. Khalezin spoke of how jeans were a symbol of freedom and this piece was masterfully delivered by both men with wit, sincerity and reverence. Viktoria Modesta’s contribution was in two parts – the first an inspiring short film showcasing her multi-faceted skills as a performance artist, the second, an impassioned speech in person, touching upon her difficult childhood in Latvia and how she has achieved her empowering eclectic career through having found the freedom to be able to express herself.

Nadya Tolokonnikova upped the ante of the event stating, “We are not beautiful, we are not ugly, we are angry!” A mantra she repeated throughout her speech, which referenced the time she spent in prison as a result of her performance with Pussy Riot in Moscow. Tolokonnikova spoke eloquently and reminded us of the real and damaging consequences speaking out about what makes you angry can sometimes have, which underpinned the reasoning behind I’m with the Banned.

The highlight of the concert was the extract of Belarus Free Theatre’s current show Time of Women, which has been written by BFT’s co-founder Natalia Kaliada and is based upon her own experience of arrest and imprisonment. Narrated by Kim Catrall, this extract was profoundly moving and the whole BFT cast can be commended for consistently pushing boundaries of expression, performance and language to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Headlining were Ukrainian band Boombox, accompanied by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Together they created a phenomenal atmosphere within KOKO and rounded off this opening event in great style.

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Reviewed 18/10/15

By Emily Jones

Staging A Revolution – Secret Locations
2nd – 14th November 2015 

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To be part of the audiences for the rest of the Starting A Revolution events, visit the Young Vic’s website, where you will find all the ticketing information. http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/staging-a-revolution

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