Brighton Festival, opening weekend, review: "visionary". Matt Trueman

2014, The Telegraph

Overseer: The character of Mother Russia in Dmitry Krymov's 'Opus No. 7' at Brighton Festival Photo: Copyright: Dan Dennison

Brighton is covered in black sheep staring out of posters for this year’s festival (which is guest-directed by Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter). Keep them in mind: judging from two of the opening weekend’s shows, ideas of difference and outsidership will recur throughout.
Moscow-based Dmitry Krymov moved into direction from design. Hisobject-led, non-verbal productions feel like processions of images. Ideas swim indistinctly underneath, but it’s the crisp and precise images that leave indelible impressions behind.
Opus No. 7, currently touring the UK with a London stop in June, is a piece in two distinct parts, each with its own subject and vocabulary. Placed either side of a half-hour interval, they inevitably rub off on each other.
The first, Geneaology, designed by Krymov’s ex-student Vera Martynova, conjures images of holocaust victims. Seven actors splash black paint on a white cardboard wall. They staple cut-out kippahs and peyos so that Hasidic silhouettes appear.
Scalpels slice cardboard. Chanting fills the air, then - whoosh - a snowstorm of white paper. You hear snatches of Genesis 5: begat, begat, begat. Piles of children’s shoes and specs (minus the children themselves) make up a school class led by a single, lonely adult. It’s as if ancestry has been obliterated, history razed. It’s poignant, unsettling and searing, all the more truthful for refusing to replicate familiar holocaust iconography.
Part two, designed by Maria Tregubova (another ex-student), is an expressionistic biography of Shostakovich. Maria Smolnikova plays him as a child, clambering over a rickety wooden piano frame, overseen by a 17-foot puppet, Mother Russia. Yet, the maternal state that once nurtured his talents turns murderous, pulling a gun and taking pot-shots at Russian artists. She pins a medal through Shostakovich’s heart. A flaming piano chases the composer. Metal baby grands clatter like stock cars. This is visionary stuff, utterly singular.
Krymov tethers two persecutions together, but also asks about art's place against atrocities. Can artists stand up to states that turn sour, having received subsidy and national acclaim?
Tim Crouch and Andy Smith offer an alternative in their play, What Happens to the Hope at the End of the Evening: art - theatre - as a space of tolerance and patience. They play friends reunited; Smith is himself, seated and reading lines, rather like a counsellor; Crouch, a character, wanders the stage, embittered and aggressive.
It toys with what’s real and what’s fictional. Crouch’s character sees the worst in people and so keeps his guard up. Smith waits for his friend to calm, neither pushing against that hostility nor joining in. This, the piece maintains, is art’s role: to let people work out their problems in their own time.
The Telegraph
By Matt Trueman, The Telegraph, 05.05.2014


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