Some theatre speaks more to the eyes than to the mind. This Lift 2014 piece from the Russian director Dmitry Krymov – a stage designer by training – seems, at first, to fall into this category.
The two halves of ‘Opus No 7’, divided by a lengthy interval, take two apparently distinct inspirations: the Holocaust, and the career of the great Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Watching them is an intense, multisensory experience in which remarkable imagery – a spatter of black paint becoming an Orthodox Jewish man; a medal pinned proudly on a lapel, then blurring into a gunshot wound – takes the place of conventional narrative. This is designer’s theatre, in which the design, naturally enough, tells the story.
What’s remarkable, then, is how profoundly the work also manages to fire the mind. Krymov himself has said that the two sections are connected only on an emotional level, and yet there are political resonances, too. Here are two groups of people – Europe’s Jewish population in the first half, and Shostakovich and his fellow artists in the second – seeking freedom and finding only the hard, impenetrable gaze of a repressive government. This point is particularly compelling in the Shostakovich section, in which Mother Russia is represented as a giant puppet, alternately aiming the gun of conformity at the composer’s head, or smothering him to her upholstered bosom.
The whole thing can occasional feels wilfully obscure (though conversely the sound design is a little obvious – explosions for World War II, etc). But Krymov and his Lab are forging a new kind of theatre, shot through with originality and a reinvigorating belief in the power of art. Go and see it while you have the chance.
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