Despite our endless acres of rolling news, there is apparently never space for the aftermath of events. Why? ‘Displaced Persons Still Displaced’ is not a headline, but then a news item repeated for the fourteenth time isn’t, either.
Fortunately, engaged artists are keen to fill the knowledge gap, and to this end, Alecky Blythe, whose ‘London Road’ has just extended at the National, recorded interviews with Georgians still unable to return to their homes in South Ossetia a year after the Russian occupation.
Five Georgian actors with headphones speak and act these interviews as they hear them; subtitles run across the screen-sized photographs behind. It’s very simple – almost too simple – unless we listen.
The speakers can obtain passes to travel back into the disputed territory, but several people suggest it’s dangerous, particularly for young girls. Is this fact? Prejudice? There’s no way of knowing. The homesick Georgians characterise themselves as hospitable people who hide their sorrows – but these Georgians don’t seem to be hiding much. The only simplistic part of war, it seems, is the part where one man shoots another and he falls dead.
Only the singing is left untranslated: five-part harmony in the midst of conflict narratives is a plain case of show and tell. But even here, there are complications. ‘Davay!’ (‘Let’s go!’) cries the bandleader, then stops in confusion, wondering aloud why he still uses a Russian word when their neighbour is now the conquering enemy. It’s the saddest point of this whole short, sad show.