Trash Cuisine

Mon 19th – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

James Bell

at 21:52 on 21st Aug 2013

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While the audience was waiting for ‘Trash Cuisine’ - the latest conceptual piece from Belarus Free Theatre - to start, there was a tangible hush hanging over the auditorium. I suspect several audience members knew what was about to happen and were mentally preparing themselves, for this is the crux of the show: it is unbelievably harrowing but so well conceived and so brilliantly performed that it is impossible to look away.

The production is a string of dance sections, personal testimonies, interludes of performance art, and black comedy that all revolve around the theme of capital punishment. The sparse set lent the performance an air of bleakness which allowed the material to resonate in all its shocking immediacy. There is a strange mix of genres and styles that wrongfooted me from the beginning and made it impossible to get in any way comfortable, a highly effective technique that made sure that the material never failed to shock. The section of black stand up, for example, or the scene in which members of a cabaret audience are slowly strapped into electric chairs, intertwines the singularity of what these testimonies tell with the prosaic style in a way that will stay with me for a long time.

Practically every section is underscored by a preoccupation with food. Initially I had reservations about what this achieved, but as I watched two executioners discuss their work over strawberries and cream, while two prisoners were covered with fruit, I realised what a powerful move this was. Food calls to mind the power that comes with the ability to nourish, and asserts a common humanity: here, food bridged the divide between the executioner and the executed and, by extension, bridged the gap between the cast and the audience.

Much of the show is much more harrowing than this. The discussions of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the genocide in Rwanda, and capital punishment in Belarus, as well as more visceral elements such as a two-minute long scream, are chilling. But again this is not so simple: everything is intermingled with a sense of beauty and grace that twists any interpretation by adding this troubling new dimension. The invocation of beauty in such a context contaminates the beautiful for us ever after.

I’m not sure if the use of a star rating is wholly appropriate here, but what I can say is that ‘Trash Cuisine’ is all-consuming and totally unlike anything I have ever seen before. Not for the squeamish, but essential for anyone who wants a little more understanding about the world around us.

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Mona Damian

at 02:07 on 22nd Aug 2013

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Physical theatre will never quite have an impact in this way again. Belarus Free Theatre’s production of ‘Trash Cuisine’ offers a harrowing experience that will leave your mind blown. The production, written by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada, is an incredibly bold conception in which political activism and entrancing aestheticism collide to a most chilling effect.

The piece is essentially an exploration of gastronomy, spiced by distressing retellings of persecution, torture and execution. Belarus Free Theatre manages to bring man-made horrors, which we tend to bury at the back of our minds, or simply reduce to meaningless statistics from news reports, into the spotlight.

The fact that two state executioners crow about their daily occupation over the homely delight of strawberries and cream, or that a sizzling fry up is prepared whilst the dread of Rwandan genocide is recalled, only accentuates the sheer disgusting nature of some human actions, which we seem to accept in our lives without much questioning or thought. Graphic is an understatement when describing just how heart-wrenching and uncomfortable the story of a Tutsi woman is; detailing how her Hutu husband slaughtered her children and served the meat carvings up for dinner.

Not only does the inclusion of cuisine draw out the most disturbing aspects of the production, but it also becomes part of the art itself, helping to create a chilling final tableau. The show certainly reaches its climax when a mother evokes the distressing treatment of her son, wrongfully executed by Belarus government because he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Arkadiy Yushin’s beautiful accompanying music adds to the poignancy and grace of the callous subject matter.

Despite the flawless performances, intricate choreography and aesthetic detail, I honestly cannot say that I would be able to squirm through another viewing of ‘Trash Cuisine’. The skill with which the nine strong cast have performed their work means spellbinding discomfort to a level, up to this point, completely unexplored. The depth of the messages conveyed and the dreadful stories told have made their unforgettable mark on me. Despite the unsettling nature of this experience, I feel that this is a must-see performance which leaves the audience with a new perspective on man’s grotesque nature as well as a sense of heightened emotional sensitivity.

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