Belarus Free Theatre’s Red Forest research expedition: 3 days in Bangladesh

Following Trash Cuisine’s success last year, Belarus Free Theatre’s much anticipated new production Red Forest arrives at the Young Vic from 12 June. In preparation for the show, BFT are on a unique research trip that is taking them across the globe. Choreographer Bridget Fiske and Lighting Designer Andrew Crofts tell us about their first stop, Bangladesh, and the stories they uncovered there that will inspire Red Forest.

: Our first morning in the mega city of Dhaka and it was full of traffic, noise and dust. We visited the Dhaka slum area of Balumart and spoke with three women who are climate refugees from regional Bangladesh.

AC: They took us in to their tiny one-roomed homes, that didn’t have so much as a door, to tell us they came to be there. They had all lost their land, homes and livelihoods in the Bhola and costal regions where rising water levels are destroying the land. These meetings were a tough introduction to what people face when driven to leave their homes. This evening we drove out of the city, starting our journey to some of the areas effected by climate change to see the problems first hand and meet the people living there.

riverbankBF: As we travelled for over two hours on a motorised wooden boat we were confronted by the extent of the river bank erosion. Cascades of earth had obviously moved, fallen away and root systems were massively exposed. This journey led us to two climate refugee resettlement communities.

AC: Here a government scheme had rehoused people and given them a small piece of land to work. The homes were secure and the land seemed so productive with all kinds of fruit and veg growing on every available bit of space; bright green rice fields stretched out from the village and people fished in the small river nearby. One man had been a tailor and also grew rice and vegetables on his land. He spoke of how cruel the river was, how the day his home and land disappeared he’d woken up a ‘king’ but by nightfall he was a beggar. Thanks to the re-housing scheme his family is now secure again.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABF: As we came further south and arrived in Koyra I was struck by how barren the land was. The cracked earth, the mud walls all because of the saline water that had destroyed this once fertile land when Cyclone Aila hit in 2009.

AC: We arrived by boat and swapped on to motorbikes as there are no roads on the island. The bikes were efficient for navigating the maze of paths between what were once rice fields and are now cracked grey pits of muddy clay.

BF: I feel lost for words expressing what happened next. A large community gathering occurred where people shared their testimonies the day of Cyclone Aila; what life was like before and what it has been like since.

AC: There were young and old, men and women; people spoke of the frantic fight to survive and the terrible losses experienced on the day the cyclone hit as well as the ongoing struggle to save the community now their land has been wasted.

BF: The hospitality of communities and people was so incredibly generous. I have become aware of a desire to find ways to return and to support the communities we have met. I hope by starting to share the stories of these people that it will be a beginning to this process.

More on Bridget and Andrew’s experience can be found on BFT’s website.

To book your tickets for Red Forest at the Young Vic, click here.

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