directed by Nicolai Khalezin
in partnership with Natalia Kaliada
written by Nicolai Khalezin
dramaturgy by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada
original testimony by Maria Alyokhina
performed by Pavel Haradnitski, Kiryl Kanstantsinau, Siarhei Kvachonak, Maryia Sazonava, Stanislava Shablinskaya, Andrei Urazau, Maryna Yurevich and Maria Alyokhina
Belarus Free Theatre
Duration 1h 45′
Played in Russian and Byelorussian with Italian and English subtitles
Recommended for an adult audience
We don’t have time to sit and wait. The people who desperately fight for art, who desperately say what they think, and sacrifice so many things are worth our solidarity and support.
Burning Doors is brand new blazingly contemporary theatre from Belarus Free Theatre drawn from the real-life stories of Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, Russian Actionist and political artist Petr Pavlensky and incarcerated Ukrainian film-maker, Oleg Sentsov.
Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina makes her theatre debut performing alongside members of BFT’s permanent ensemble, as Burning Doors marks an unprecedented collaboration between Belarus Free Theatre, the only theatre company in Europe banned by its own government, and Maria Alyokhina who served a two-year prison sentence for the group’s anti-Putin performance in 2012.
Shining a light on the total suppression of artistic freedom just a four-hour flight from London, Burning Doors illuminates the role of contemporary artists in dictatorial societies and examines what happens to people when they are declared enemies of the state simply for making art. Through the lens of these three artists, and drawing on their own experience as political refugees, Belarus Free Theatre explores the psychological impact of imprisonment, exile and forced migration, casting their gaze towards the displacement of people due to political persecution and conflict in Europe today. Directed with sensuous theatricality and vigorous physicality by Nicolai Khalezin, co-founding Artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre, together with Natalia Kaliada, Burning Doors is powerful theatre in solidarity with those who refuse to be silenced.
‘Savage political satire. Performed with blazing energy and commitment.’
– Financial Times
‘A spiky, furious mosaic’
– The Sunday Times
‘This is bold, striking, searing performance art. Never has your own freedom felt so precious.’
– The Review Hub
‘Inescapable is the unshakeable, life-risking bravery of these artists – not only the ones whose cases are represented here, but the performers, too.’
– The Jewish Chronicle
‘Rips the mind from the complacency of distance and leaves you with the one thing art nowadays so often begrudges – a thought.’
– CEEL (Central and Eastern European Review)
‘Visceral. Powerful. Pounding, relentless intensity.’
– Leicester Mercury
‘An extraordinary show. Noisy, taboo-busting and brutal to behold. A bracing call to arms by people who can claim to have faced oppression’
– A Younger Theatre
Nicolai Khalezin is an award-winning director, playwright, designer, educator, political campaigner and journalist. Prior to co-founding BFT in 2005, he was Editor-in-Chief of the leading social-political weekly newspapers in Belarus – Name, News and Our Freedom – all of which were shut down by the oppressive regime. The journalistic approach to theatre-making that has characterised all of BFT’s stage productions over the past decade owes much to his rigorous editorial method. Another significant influence on his theatrical vision is a deep love and knowledge of contemporary art. Nicolai was the owner of the only contemporary art gallery in Minsk, which was also closed down by the authorities. His works were exhibited at the Istanbul Biennale, Milan Expo, in Rome, Berlin and at the Moscow Centre of Contemporary Art. Nicolai served time in prison in Belarus for his involvement in political campaigns, and was recognised as a Prisoner of Consciousness by Amnesty International. This experience inspired one of BFT’s most popular shows, Generation Jeans, an autobiographical duologue about rock music and resistance. Written, directed and performed by Nicolai Khalezin, with live music by DJ Laurel, Generation Jeans has been performed more than 100 times around the world, including at the home of President Vaclav Havel upon his invitation in 2008 and at the House of Commons together with BFT’s trustee Jude Law in 2012. Further playwriting credits for BFT include Discover Love, Trash Cuisine, Time of Women, all of which he also directed, and the adaptation of King Lear which was staged at the Globe to Globe Festival in 2012, as part of the London Cultural Olympics. Nicolai is the founder of BFT’s theatre laboratory, Fortinbras, the only independent arts school in Belarus, developed together with Natalia Kaliada and Vladimir Shcherban.
Maria Alyokhina is a Russian activist and member of Pussy Riot. The balaclava-wearing female punk group Pussy Riot hit the headlines in 2012 when a guerrilla performance of the protest song – Virgin Mary, redeem us of Putin – in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral led to their trial and imprisonment. The anti-Putin performance, condemning his corrupt relationship with the church, lasted just 40 seconds before they were arrested. Maria together with bandmates Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were accused of “hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred”. Maria was sentenced to two years in prison. Amnesty International named her a Prisoner of Conscience due to “the severity of the response of the Russian authorities”. She was released in 2014 and has since campaigned across the world for prison reform in Russia. Burning Doors is her professional theatre debut and first co-creation with Belarus Free Theatre.
Over the past five years, Russian Actionist and political artist Petr Pavlensky has mounted some of the most provocative and sensational performances in recent history, using his body as his canvas. He nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square in front of Lenin’s tomb to underline the political indifference of contemporary Russian society; lay naked in a roll of barbed wire outside St. Petersburg’s parliament building, protesting a host of repressive laws; sewed his mouth shut outside Kazan Cathedral to protest the prosecution of Pussy Riot. He was detained in November, facing three years in prison for damaging a cultural site. He was not seeking a lenient punishment; he asked for charges against him to be elevated to terrorism offences. The act, arrest, conviction and imprisonment is the performance. His aim with the work, is to bring the world’s attention to the state of impunity protecting the Federal Security Service’s tactics of oppression. In June 2016, a court in Moscow set him free with a fine. Like all of his work, Petr Pavlensky makes the threat of inevitable punishment real and visible, exposing the injustice and censorship at the heart of the system that will enact his trial. He is the face of Russian contemporary art today, challenging the state as a mechanism of suppression of personal liberties.
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in a correctional camp in Yakutia for plotting acts of terrorism in Crimea after the peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014. He has always maintained his innocence, both to charges of terrorism and to the allegations that he committed arson. His trial was described by Amnesty International as “redolent of Stalinist-era show trials”. Sentsov stated that he was tortured by investigators, and a key witness recanted in the courtroom on the grounds that his evidence had been extorted under torture. Oleg Sentsov first came to the attention of the international film world with Gaamer, a debut feature inspired by the computer and video-gaming club for young people that he had founded. Gaamer opened to great acclaim at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2012. The European Film Academy together with leading international film directors, including Pedro Almodóvar, Wim Wenders, Stephen Daldry, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, have campaigned for his release, echoing the grave concerns of Amnesty International that Sentsov’s trial was a “total fiasco” and that the “entire case for the prosecution is built on a house of cards”. Whilst serving his prison sentence, Fernando Bovaira named Sentsov an honorary member of the 62nd San Sebastian Film Festival’s main competition jury; a chair was reserved for him in solidarity. Oleg Sentsov remains in prison today.
Belarus Free Theatre
Belarus Free Theatre is an award-winning theatre company founded in 2005 in Minsk under Europe’s last surviving dictatorship. Its existence is illegal in a country where only state-sanctioned theatre is permitted. Since 2011, BFT has been based between Minsk and London where founding members, husband and wife team Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, together with Associate Director Vladimir Shcherban, are political refugees in the UK. BFT’s permanent ensemble are based in Minsk where they campaign, educate and perform every single day of the year, underground. Performers and audiences are under the constant watch of the authorities; performances have been raided by the KGB and audience members arrested. In spite of this, BFT is a hot ticket – typically 2,000 people apply for a 50-seat venue. Described by The New York Times as, “one of the bravest and most inspired underground troupes on the planet”, BFT has brought audiences some of the world’s most provocative theatre – 40 new productions performed in more than 30 countries over the past decade. BFT returns to Soho Theatre in 2016, eight years after the troupe’s London debut with Being Harold Pinter in 2008.
Belarus Free Theatre has enjoyed the support and solidarity of fellow artists including the late Harold Pinter and Vaclav Havel; Sir Tom Stoppard, David Lan, Steven Spielberg, Jude Law, Kevin Spacey, Mick Jagger, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Joanna Lumley, Vivienne Westwood, Kim Cattrall, Ian McKellen and Samuel West. Belarus Free Theatre is an Associate Company at the Young Vic and at Falmouth University’s Academy of Music & Theatre Arts (AMATA). Further afield, BFT has a long-standing partnership with both the Public Theater and LaMaMa in New York.