The disaster of Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 was one of those: the town of Pripyat, then part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and its surrounding areas, were infected by radioactivity due to the core of a nuclear power plant exploding and contaminating everything around it. Not only did nature suffer, but people did too, and thirty years later, they still do: the radiation levels hurt children, adults, their food and their clothes without them even truly realising it at first. What is more, thousands of people from all around the Soviet Union were called up to deal with the consequences of the explosion, putting themselves in danger. While these people probably saved the rest of Europe from a similar disaster, one could say that their pain is not acknowledged enough or too often subject to people looking away.
The stage is quite dark, save for spotlights alternating with a general light, thanks to the lighting design by Rory Fairbairn. The actors are wearing grey clothes, which they accessorise to fit with their various characters. We start by meeting these characters played by a multinational company of six actors in their everyday lives, until a feeling happens: they feel a spasm, and we almost do too. I kept expecting a loud explosion, but it didn’t happen, and my anticipation made it worse. Instead, a jumpiness and strange fear was overwhelming the characters until they started sharing their stories.
These characters are wives of firemen, government officials or innocent citizens.
In the midst of this, others start to feel apprehensive and restless, and want to know the truth. Actor Oleg Sidorchik performs almost all his lines in Russian, plays the guitar and shows his impatience at the government’s next moves about the disaster. I think he brings a great energy to the piece as a whole, through the language and his strong presence. Karina Knapinska is also intriguing as a young woman recounting what has happened but never answers her own questions. There was a line I enjoyed which questioned what, in a communist state focused on its people and devoid of religion, happens when the strength of those people is compromised?
One limitation of this show, adapted for stage and directed by German D’Jesus, is the dialogue – I thought there wasn’t enough of it. There are many monologues, and people looking out at the audience. When they do interact, something electric, as it were, happens, and I wanted to see more of that. The
In addition, the majority of the actors are on stage the whole time, retreating to the sides of the stage to change and get ready for their next scenes. I liked this element, but in this sense, I thought everyone should be present the whole time instead of sometimes retreating backstage. Again, Christie’s appearance could have started sooner, even if it was silent at first.
I do think this is a strong show talking about a disaster that is so close to us and uncomfortable but I was craving more connection between the characters.
Review by Sophie Tergeist