Generation Jeans = Generation Freedom Fighters. A provocative analogy to take away with you from Belarus Free Theatre's latest play in Staging a Revolution, a festival celebrating their 10th anniversary.
The play nearly didn't happen though, an unplanned and heavy handed entrance by the police into the bowels of the car park situated deep underneath parliament where BFT were about to legally perform in, nearly stopped the show- appropriate for Belarus Free Theatre, here attempting to mimic the secret conditions they are forced to work under in Belarus in order to escape the law enforcers and the KGB.
However, the police appeased after their unnecessary inspection (had something to do with the mention of journalists and the Guardian) the show was allowed to continue and I couldn't help wondering it was a pity the law enforcers didn't stick around, for they would have witnessed a deceptively simple and beautiful play. Based on co founder of BFT Nicolai Khalezin's life, it is elaborate with metaphor, acute in its political dissections, exuberant with quiet emotion and all told through first person narrative with Khalezin playing himself to the background of quiet rock.
The plot traces the cultural history of jeans and what wearing them can symbolise. Khalezin gives us a detailed picture of his boyhood, selling Wranglers in school to make a quick buck (they were banned in the former USSR and Belarus) with KGB agents waiting in hotel lobbies to pounce on teenage bootleggers. The play really works as a testimonial to Khalezin's own struggle to find identity and freedom in a country he increasingly finds it difficult to reconcile himself with, the play's language is precise, sparse, almost terse and yet poetical and peppered with humour. Khalezin's performance is also understated and soft, opening himself out to the audience with a vulnerability which makes us feel we are next to him in the courtroom, with him when he falls in love with Natalia Kaliada and with him when he is shoved into a claustrophobic 80x80cm glass cell. As he encourages our shouts "I am free!" to reach the chambers perhaps still in session above us, and elaborates on the "persistent desire" to shout such words and develops his theme that "generation jeans- they are the people of freedom" he combines muted anger with intolerable personal pain and sadness for a homeland lost- for the moment- to the clutches of a dictator.
It's a play that allows us to breathe though. At times of high emotion, there are pauses to allow us to reflect. Perfectly paced and timed, Khalezin doesn't stumble and makes us think that this is what the works of Svetlana Alexievich may sound and look like were they to be staged.
A poignant production, shining a blazing light on the inconsistencies and contradictions of a country cruelly oppressed, it displays genuine humour with real warmth and compassion.
Generation Jeans is part of Belarus Free Theatre’s Staging a Revolution, a two week festival of performances and discussion platforms from Belarus Free Theatre to mark their 10th anniversary in 2015 (2-14 November).
Performances and discussions will be live-streamed here: http://belarusfreetheatre.com/livestreaming
Written, directed and performed by Nicolai Khalezin
Music DJ Laurel (Laur Biarzhanin)