The Power of the Theatrical Style: The Experience of the Belarus Free Theatre Company Belarus Free Theatre
Belarus Free Theatre

Many artists from all over the world work hard and sacrifice themselves to fight for a good cause. It is also the case of the Belarus free Theatre. This Company was established in Minsk in March 2005 by the human rights activists, playwright and journalist Nikolai Khalezin, his wife and the theatre producer Natalia Koliada. Their aim consists in resisting the pressure and censorship of the authoritarian regime of the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.

Under the current political system the Belarus Free Theatre doesn’t have an official registration, premises or any other facilities in its own country. For this reason, rehearsals and performances are usually held secretly in small private apartments which must be constantly changed due to security and the risk of persecution.

Staffs members have been repeatedly harassed by the authorities for their participation in the Company and the stage director together with other people were fired from their jobs.

Famous playwrights such as Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Václav Havel, and Arthur Kopit have supported the Free Theatre, awarding the group a special prize during the 12th Edition of the Europe Theatre Prize in July 2007 for its opposition against the oppression of the Belarusian Government. Still in 2007 the Free Theatre was awarded also by the French Republic for defending human rights.

In late 2008 due to the financial support of the British Embassy in Belarus, the Free Theatre launched an educational project named Studio Fortinbras, destined to young Belarusians without theatre experience. After the arrest in 2010 and the following violence suffered by Natalia Koliada, the group left its native country and moved to London in 2011. Two actors from the group have been granted the status of political refugees. In 2012 the Company debuted in London with their first show Minsk 2011: A reply to Kathy Acker. The performance was sold out and it highlighted for the first time a public and cultural interest for their protests and for the violent oppression that continues in Belarus.

Last June the Belarus Free Theatre participated in the Lift Festival, one of the most important English theatrical events. They presented the show Red Forest that received much consent from the audience and media. Red Forest is written in a style that appears less aggressive and the plot refers to the current situation in Belarus, but also presenting many other famous tragedies that happened all over the world in the last decade. The scene is dominated by a vertical strip of land, where eleven actors fight and dance together. The main character, played by Michal Keyamo, is Aisha, a young pregnant woman forced to abandon her village and give birth to her child in the Sahara desert. Aisha seeks refuge but during her search she meets many people with whom she shares tragedies and emotions. On the background are projected names and images of various catastrophes.

In this way, we recognize the protagonist of some tragedies happened in Spain, Ivory Cost, Algeria, Brazil, while some witnesses of those events describe their experiences of injustice or natural tragedies. It is the case of the two actors Pavel Haradnitski and Maryia Sazanova, veterans of the Belarusian Company who play the history of a Japanese couple swept away by the tsunami of 2011.

The issue of climate change is also performed on stage, with the introduction of the Chernobyl disaster, when the Belarus forest became red because of the nuclear explosion, before disappearing completely. Acting is enriched by live music plaid by the multi-instrumentalist Stephanie Pan. In addition to this, many actors sing in chorus, since most of them share a past of musicians. According to some theatrical critics in terms of drama, the message that Red Forest wants to convey is less incisive. In fact, the stories are lost in this journey across the world without focusing on a specific subject, but in this way, the performance seems to be a simple summary of unhappy stories.

With Red Forest, the Free Theatre also launched a campaign to support environmental activists and campaigners in Belarus and the UK that oppose unsafe forms of energy production.

The Company particularly protest against the construction of new nuclear power plants and report the planning of new nuclear sites in Belarus, without any specific plan or licenses, close to the border with the European Union. For this reason, the Belarus environment and above all the forest, which has been destroyed with the Chernobyl disaster, risks to be devastated once again?

You can follow the Red Forest Campaign and support them here:

The Lift Festival

Established in London in 1981, the Lift is one of the most interesting events of the English capital city. Born with the aim to bring global stories to London, the Festival contributed to transformation of the city into a stage and to the presentation of some experiences of those individuals, cultures and communities that call London their home. This festival continues to promote the spirit of diverse nationalities, in fact the Lift become an important opportunity for experimentation and expression of a multiform stage language, but it is also a way to show the rich number of ethnicity that meet in the English capital city.

Year after year the Festival has presented new forms of theatre and has set the benchmark for internationalism in the arts. In additional, the Lift is a member of a number of national and international networks of arts organizations, established to support artists, art forms and reach a wider and more diverse audience, create new work and initiatives.
This year edition of the Festival was the most ambitious one in its significant history, attracting as visitors over 38,000 people.The Lift is promoted by the Young Vic Theatre, the Melbourne festival and the Arts Council England. Every year this Festival hosts important artists from all over the world and this year took part companies such as: Ahilan Ratnamohan, the Yard Theatre, Lola Aria and the Belarus Free Theatre.

You can watch the trailer of the show Red Forest here:


  Edited by:Natalia Ghincul