Skip to main content

Pussy Riot Theatre: Riot Days

The Art School, Glasgow
November 21st 2017

“Be as punk as you like,” says music promoter and producer Alexander Cheparukhin, introducing this live rendering of Riot Days, Pussy Riot leading light Maria Alyokhina's explosive counter-cultural memoir, published in September. Alyokhina was one of three members of the Russian all-female anti-establishment live art troupe imprisoned in full glare of the global media in 2012. This followed their arrest after a forty-second guerilla performance inside Moscow's Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour caught the public imagination. The publicity also highlighted an intolerance of dissent by Vladimir Putin's puritanical regime. Alongside fellow Pussy Rioters Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, Alyokhina,received a two year sentence for 'hooliganism motivated by religious hatred'. Having remained in custody throughout the trial, she ended up serving twenty-one months.

Almost four years since her release, Alyokhina appears as defiant as ever when she walks onstage following Cheparukhin's introduction for the Glasgow leg of an ongoing global tour. She is joined by the trio of actor/performer Kyril Masheka and two members of co-conspirators in Moscow's artistic underground, Asian Women on the Telephone, Max and original Pussy Riot member, Nastya. As the quartet line up in front of a large screen, Alyokhina stands at the centre of the regimented row looking out.

Max strikes up an industrial electronic pulse that drives the show, and the screen flashes into life with a dizzying collage of captions, images and sub-titles. Alyokhina launches into a relentless barrage of real life experience drawn from before, during and after the Pussy Riot cathedral action like her life depended on it. Speaking in Russian with the vigour of a performance poet and dressed in funereal black velvet with an Orthodox cross hanging from her neck, Alyokhina stands stock static, heightening the power she projects even more.

'ANYONE CAN BE PUSSY RIOT' flashes one caption on the screen during the the first of seven sections, 'Red'. Alyokhina, Masheka and Nastya exchange angry-sounding declarations as the story moves from the build-up to the intervention in the cathedral and what is here called '40 seconds of crime' to the subsequent trial and Alyokhina's ongoing protests in prison and beyond. This is illustrated on-screen by footage of Pussy Riot in the cathedral sporting the array of brightly coloured balaclavas that became such an icon of the new wave of protest Pussy Riot came to define. With verite video footage by Taosa Krugovych and video art by Katya Sheglova, there is film of military police detaining members of the group as well as court-room cartoon sketches.

Onstage, the group themselves don masks at various points. Masheka strips to his waist, busts some dance moves and looks every inch the executioner. As sound and vision crank up, he hurls water out at the audience in some fierce kind of baptism. Nastya plays a skronky saxophone over the electronics, both given an extra kick by Max's ferocious intense drumming. If the rapid-fire collage of captions look to Brecht, the English sub-titles add a further level of making strange. 'In Russia there are no women priests', says one translation. 'In Russia there is Pussy Riot'.

Riot Days, aka Revolution, shouldn't be confused with Inside Pussy Riot, an 'immersive theatrical punk production' presented by Les Enfants Terribles theatre company and currently running at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Interestingly, Alyokhina's comrade, Tolokonnikova, is billed as an associate writer on Les Enfants Terribles' show.

Alyokhina's version of events is overseen by theatre director Yury Muravitsky, whose previous work includes a 2011 production of a play called Light My Fire, an exploration of rock mythology using the figures of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. This fascination with pop iconography has been channelled here into a fearless call to arms.

The martial percussion and provocative stance of Alyokhina and co in Riot Days can't help but make one think of Thatcher-era agitators Test Department, whose own multi-media mash-ups of agit-prop proclamations and industrial thunder included a live show on the same Glasgow School of Art stage in 1989. There are similarities here too with Blow Off, Glasgow-based writer and performer AJ Taudevin's recent piece of explosive gig theatre. This was toured by Taudevin with musicians Susan Bear and Julie Eisenstein, aka Tuff Love, plus Kim Moore, as a series of one-nighters. Taudevin previously wrote and performed a piece of Pussy Riot inspired guerilla theatre in the bar of Edinburgh arts centre Summerhall shortly after the Pussy Riot trial went global.

The difference with Riot Days is that it comes from first-hand experience, which Alyokhina has transformed, as with her book, into a work of art. Having served her time and remained true to the Orthodox faith that denounced her as much as the punk aesthetic she espouses, she has created a fast and furious ritual of defiance.

Product, November 2017

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Peter Brook – The Prisoner

Peter Brook is no stranger to Scotland, ever since the guru of European and world theatre first brought his nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, to Glasgow in 1988. That was at the city’s old transport museum, which by 1990 had become Tramway, the still-functioning permanent venue that opened up Glasgow and Scotland as a major channel for international theatre in a way that had previously only been on offer at Edinburgh International Festival.
Brook and his Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord company’s relationship with Tramway saw him bring his productions of La Tragedie de Carmen, La Tempete, Pellease et Mellisande, The Man Who…, and Oh Les Beaux Jours – the French version of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – to Glasgow.
Thirty years on from The Mahabharata, Brook comes to EIF with another piece of pan-global theatre as part of a residency by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, which Brook has led since he decamped to Paris from London in the early 1970s. The current Edinburgh residency has alr…

Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Comes to Glasgow

Open-air Shakepeares are a summer-time perennial of the theatre calendar, attracting picnicking audiences as much as midges. More often than not, such romps through the grass are frothy, heritage industry affairs designed to be accompanied by strawberries and cream and not to be taken too seriously. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company look set to change such perceptions when they open their outdoor tour of Romeo And Juliet in Glasgow next week as part of the West End festival.

For the two young actors taking the title roles of the doomed lovers, it will also be something of a homecoming. Richard Madden and Ellie Piercy both studied in Glasgow prior to turning professional. Indeed, Madden has yet to graduate from the acting course at RSAMD, and, as well as facing the pressures of playing such a meaty role in close proximity to the audience, will have the added anxiety of being assessed and graded by his tutors.

“This is the end of my third year,” says Madden following a Saturday mornin…

Suzy Glass – Message from the Skies

Freedom of movement matters to Suzy Glass, the arts and events producer currently overseeing the second edition of Message from the Skies.This animated literary derive around the city forms part of this year’s Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme, and runs right through till Burns’ Night. Glass’ concerns are inherent in the event itself, which has commissioned six writers from different disciplines and experiences to each pen a love letter to Europe. Each writer has then paired up with a composer and visual artist or film-maker, with the results of each collaboration projected in monumental fashion on the walls of one of half a dozen of the capital’s most iconic buildings.
With venues stretching from the south side of Edinburgh to Leith, and with one city centre stop requiring a walk up Calton Hill, there is considerable legwork required to complete the circuit. It shouldn’t be considered a race, however, and audiences are free to move between venues at their leisure, visiting each site on d…