“She believed the modern world couldn’t be contained in old-fashioned form” | Dominic Dromgoole talks to Belarus Free Theatre about Sarah Kane

Image by Ai Weiwei

Image by Ai Weiwei

On 2 November as part of the Staging a Revolution festival, Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Dominic Dromgoole will join a post show discussion following Belarus Free Theatre’s production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis. Ahead of the talk, Dominic, who knew Sarah Kane, talks to BFT about Shakespeare and politics.

Would you describe Shakespeare as a political playwright?

He lived in a time of enormous political stress and ferocious political oppression, when the country was undergoing sea changes in terms of its class structure and emerging out of one kind of policy into another.  At the same, a major ideological battle was raging between on the one hand Protestantism and on the other extreme Catholicism and various degrees of shading in between.

Tremendously diverse political groups formed around these questions and others and above it ruled a State that was determined to hold on to power fairly aggressively.  All of these issues ripple through all of his plays.

What is his most political play?

You would be a fool to say any of them isn’t political.  Timon of Athens, which was Karl Marx’s favourite play, contains swingeing diatribes against the power of money and capital, and how money distorts a proper sense of human worth. But even a play as innocent as As You Like It has a fierce sense of political tension.

What was censorship like in Shakespeare’s time?

You had a very active, occasionally dangerous conversation with the authorities expressed by the Lord Chamberlain, who was there to oversee what was sayable in the theatre.  It was a lively and difficult conversation about what was allowed and what not. If things were considered too inflammatory the playwright could end up in prison. Both Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton spent time in prison for dealing with subjects that should have been verboten.

Shakespeare however avoided this through his remarkable capacity to challenge and provoke on the one hand and to brown nose and arse lick on the other.  In the Scottish Play you have a play with an out-of-control despotic king, written four or five years after James arrived in London. He is psychotic, murderous and accountable to no-one and yet, in the middle of it all of the descendents of Banquo present to the Scottish General in the title, a very brown nosing speech to the king.

King Lear is another example of an authoritarian ruler who is out of control and has lost contact with his people. And yet within the play you have a sense that he is listening to the rogues and vagabonds across the country, people who were marginalised as the result of power upheaval.

In the play there are arguments for order, for authority and for maintaining the status quo, and arguments for their opposite.  For this reason the play has remained popular in totalitarian states. Shakespeare’s system of coded and ambivalent messages in his plays still communicates to audiences and is still important.

It is the evasiveness of his messages that frightens everyone .  We are touring the world with our Hamlet and the one country we cannot take it is North Korea. They will allow music and dance and acrobats, but not a play.  The word, the relationships and dynamics between people are deemed to be dangerous.

Shakespeare is a genius in managing to put relations between people both private and public on the stage, without being explicit about their intentions.

How did you get to know Sarah Kane?

I worked alongside Sarah Kane at Bush Theatre [Dominic worked there first as assistant director, then as artistic director from the late 80s to 1996] where she was literary associate. She wanted to be an assistant director, but we couldn’t give her the job so she came on as a literary associate and became part of the team, working with writers and developing scripts.

What do you think about the degree of self-exposure in her play 4.48 Psychosis?

I think she was a very restless modernist, trying to create new forms to encapsulate what she saw as new content.  She created different patterns in each play, all very distinct and different in each, one from another.  They were very brilliant and very erudite responses to try and deal with a world that she saw as so full of violence and cruelty and viciousness.  She believed the modern world couldn’t be contained in old-fashioned forms.

Staging a Revolution sees Belarus Free Theatre perform at underground locations across London and at the Young Vic from 2 – 14 Nov. To find out more, click here . Every performance and discussion will be live streamed online for free at belarusfreetheatre.com/livestream.

BFT | Staging a Revolution platform discussions


“There is no denying that the company has a visceral power, a thrilling necessity-born inventiveness and an urgent topicality that is rare in theater today” – New York Times

Belarus Free Theatre celebrate their 10th anniversary with an epic festival featuring 10 landmark productions. After each performance there will be a discussion with leading political thinkers and activists over Belarusian food & drinks. Take a look below and see what’s in store for each post-show event. Every performance and discussion will be live streamed online for free at belarusfreetheatre.com/livestream.

4.48 PSYCHOSIS – Monday 2nd Nov
Speakers: Dominic Domgroole is artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe and was a personal friend of Sarah Kane. Dr. Ann York is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist who works closely with Young Minds. The conversation will be facilitated by Sarah Brennan – CEO Young Minds.
In partnership with: Young Minds’ mission is to improve the emotional resilience and mental health of children and young people.

PRICE OF MONEY – Tuesday 3rd Nov
Speakers: Hannah Lewis is an experienced activist and trainer for Seeds for Change. Jamie Kelsey-Fry is a teacher, writer and activist, and contributing editor for New Internationalist magazine.
In partnership with: No Dash for Gas/Reclaim the Power are helping to coordinate collective mass action for climate justice during Paris Climate Change Conference in December.

New York ’79 & MINSK, 2011 – Wednesday 4th Nov
Speakers: Sam Roddick is an artist and sex workers’ rights activist and founder “erotic lifestyle” emporium, Coco de Mer. Jide Macaulay is Nigeria’s first openly gay preacher and the founder of House of Rainbow Fellowship, a secret gay church in Lagos. The conversation will be facilitated by Ophelia Bitz – cabaret artist, compere, stripper and one time Circus Ringmistress.
In partnership with: The Kaleidoscope Trust works to uphold the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people internationally

GENERATION JEANS – Thursday 5th Nov
Speakers: Gus Hosein – CEO Privacy International
Mustafa Al Bassam was part of LulzSec, a computer hacking group responsible a number of high profile attacks in 2011. The conversation will be facilitated by Dr Richard Tynan – a Technologist at Privacy International.
In partnership with: Privacy International campaigns to ensure that the right to privacy, enshrined in Article 12 of United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, is taken into account by governments and corporate interests.

DISCOVER LOVE – Friday 6th Nov
Speakers: Irina Krasovskaya is a Belarusian professor of child psychology. Her husband was disappeared by Lukashenko’s regime in 1999. Marina Cantacuzino is a journalist and founder of the Forgiveness Project. The conversation will be facilitated by Kaye Adams, the Scottish television and radio presenter for BBC Scotland.
In partnership with: The Forgiveness Project is a grassroots organisation working in conflict resolution, reconciliation and victim support.

ZONE OF SILENCE – Saturday 7th Nov
Speakers: Arkady Babchenko is a journalist and author of ‘A Soldier’s War, telling of his gruelling experiences in the Russian army in Chechnya. Peter Pomerantsev is a Russian TV producer, based in London. Oliver Bullough is an author and journalist, specialising in Russia. The conversation will be facilitated by Gabriel Gatehouse, BBC Russian correspondent.
In partnership with: The Frontline Club exists to promote freedom of expression and support journalists, cameramen and photographers who risk their lives in the course of their work.

TRASH CUISINE – Sunday 8th Nov
Speakers: Clive Stafford Smith is human rights lawyer and the founder and Director of Reprieve.
Maya Foa is Director of the Death Penalty Team at Reprieve.
In partnership with: REPRIEVE supports people who suffer extreme human rights abuses at the hands of the most powerful governments in the world.

TIME OF WOMEN – Monday 9th Nov
Speakers: Iryna Khalip whose story features in the play, is an award winning Belarusian journalist. Abigail Fielding-Smith is Senior Reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The conversation will be facilitated by Shereen Nanjiani – a radio presenter with BBC Radio Scotland.
In partnership with: Rory Peck Trust is dedicated to supporting and assisting freelance newsgatherers worldwide.

TIME OF WOMEN – Tuesday 10th Nov
Speakers: Iryna Khalip whose story features in the play, is an award winning Belarusian journalist. Rachel Oldroyd is deputy editor at the Bureau for Investigative Journalism (tbc). The conversation will be facilitated by Shereen Nanjiani a radio presenter with BBC Radio Scotland.
In partnership with: Rory Peck Trust is dedicated to supporting and assisting freelance newsgatherers worldwide.

KING LEAR – Wednesday 11th Nov
Speakers: Avi Roy is President of the Biogerontology Research Foundation. Anders Sandberg is a transhumanist and crynocist and Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute. The conversation will be facilitated by Akshat Rathi – a science and health reporter for Quartz digital magazine.
In partnership with: Biogerontology Research Foundation supports the application of our knowledge of the mechanisms of ageing to the relief of disability, suffering and disease in old age.

KING LEAR – Thursday 12th Nov
Speakers: Charlotte Casebourne started Public Health and Longevity – a new initiative to harness the most innovative science and technology promoting health in longevity. Dr Jeremy Chataway is a Consultant Neurologist with University College Foundation NHS Trust. The conversation will be facilitated by Akshat Rathi – a science and health reporter for Quartz digital magazine.
In partnership with: Biogerontology Research Foundation supports the application of our knowledge of the mechanisms of ageing to the relief of disability, suffering and disease in old age

Speakers: John McCarthy CBE is a British journalist, broadcaster and travel writer and broadcaster, and one of the hostages in the Lebanon hostage crisis.
Perico Gonzalez is a case-worker and counsellor for Freedom from Torture.
In partnership with: Freedom from Torture is the only organisation in the UK dedicated solely to the treatment and rehabilitation of survivors of torture.

BEING HAROLD PINTER – Saturday 14th Nov
Speakers: Michael Attenborough, theatre director and trustee of Belarus Free Theatre and Natalia Kaliada, co-Artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre in conversation – reflecting on the past ten years of the company and looking forward to the next.

Belarus Free Theatre’s Staging a Revolution runs from 2 – 14 Nov. For more info: Ministry of Counterculture.
Keep up-to-date with events, plays and campaigns – sign up to the mailing list belarusfreetheatre.com/newsletter

Belarus Free Theatre is Staging a Revolution

BFT: Staging a Revolution

Image by Ai Weiwei

“One of the bravest and most inspired underground troupes on the planet” – The New York Times on BFT

Belarus Free Theatre (BFT), the radical underground theatre company founded under Europe’s last surviving dictatorship mark their 10th anniversary this year. To celebrate, BFT have announced a two week festival featuring 10 of their landmark productions.

The first week of events will be at secret locations as they would be in Minsk where BFT  are banned from performing. Each performance will be followed by a discussion of the most urgent topics of our time with leading thinkers and activist.

The following week, BFT return to the YV to perform three of their critically acclaimed productions. Take a look below for more info:


4.48 Psychosis
Mon 2 Nov at 6pm (Secret location #1 – London postcode EC)
Going against the regime, Sarah Kane’s groundbreaking show was BFT’s first ever underground production in 2005. Today, they continue to tell human truths and illuminate the obvious and hidden taboos within society.
Book now.

Price of Money
Tues 3 Nov at 6.20pm (Secret location #2 – London postcode SE1)
Money makes the world go round – whether you have it or you don’t. Inspired the first political satire from ancient Greece, Plutus by Aristophanes, Price of Money is a scathing attack on inequality and excess.
Book now.

Minsk, 2011: A reply to Kathy Acker
Wednesday 4 Nov at 6.20pm (Secret location #3 – London postcode SE11)
If scars are sexy, Minsk must be the sexiest city in the world…
A love letter to a home that exiles those willing to fight for it, Minsk, 2011 celebrates and mourns a land that has lost its way.
Book now.

Generation Jeans
Thursday 5 Nov at 6.20pm (Secret location #4 – London postcode SW1)
BFT present their critically acclaimed duologue about rock music and resistance. Performed by BFT co-founder Nikolai Khalezin with music by DJ Laurel.
Book now.

Discover Love
Fri 6 Nov at 6.20pm (Secret location #5 – London postcode EC)
Based on a true story, Discover Love is a stirringly powerful original drama about Irina Krasovskaya and her husband Anatoly, a supporter of the Belarus opposition movement who one day simply “disappeared”.
Book now.

Zone of Silence
Sat 7 Nov at 6.20pm (Secret location #6 – London postcode N17)
The human spirit prevails in the face of adversity. Told in three independent chapters, Zone of Silence is an insight to everyday life under dictatorship and the taboos that are vehemently repressed.
Book now.

Trash Cuisine
Sun 8 Nov at 6.20pm (Secret location #7 – London postcode N4)
BFT serve up food, music, dance, Shakespeare and true stories from inmates and executioners in this challenge to the ongoing existence of capital punishment in the contemporary world.
Book now.


Time of Women
Mon 9 & Tues 10 Nov
The world premiere of a play about women on the forefront of a movement for a democratic Belarus – women with an unflinching and unswerving dedication to the truth.
Book now.

King Lear
Wednes 11 & Thurs 12 Nov
A fresh reading of Shakespeare’s classic that draws on on first-hand experience of tyranny and exile whilst also interrogating the universality of power unwisely yielded.
Book now.

Being Harold Pinter
Fri 13 & Sat 14 Nov
A poignant contemporary commentary on institutionalised violence, freedom and human dignity featuring testimonies from Belarusian political prisoners and excerpts Harold Pinter’s lifetime of writings.
Book now.

In the press: “The audience in Belarus is the bravest in the world” BFT co-founder Natalia Kaliada talks to the Guardian about Staging a Revolution and stage life under authoritarian rule.

Staging A Revolution runs from 2 – 14 Nov.

Behind the scenes of the Red Forest photo shoot

Eight months ago, Belarus Free Theatre were in the early stages of developing their much anticipated new show, Red Forest, which is set to open at the Young Vic next week.

All those months ago, on a rainy October afternoon, we gathered our photographer Bronwen Sharp, members of BFT and our model for the day, Red Forest company member Michal Empdjd, and began shooting the image that would represent the show.

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes

Red Forest tells the true stories of people across the world who have been affected by man-made destruction and natural disasters, and we were keen to merge man and nature in the shot. The lovely Michal spent almost the entire day submerged in water (first in a bath, then a paddling pool!) until we were finally all agreed we had the shot we needed. Here are some behind the scenes snaps as well as a couple of the photographer’s beautiful pictures that just missed out on making it as the final image…

Photos by Bronwen Sharp

Photos by Bronwen Sharp

To see our final choice for the show image, the trailer for the production or to book tickets for Red Forest,  click here.

Michal Keyamo on working with Belarus Free Theatre and creating Red Forest


Photo by Bronwen Sharp.

Michal Keyamo, who’ll take to the stage in Red Forest this June, tells us about the five weeks she spent in Cornwall with Belarus Free Theatre as they set about creating their epic new show.

11 March – 16 April 2014
Falmouth, Cornwall

In March, I embarked on a five week residential with Belarus Free Theatre. Safe to say, it was one of the best experiences of my life.  The residential took place at the University of Falmouth’s performance centre, where we began to develop Red Forest.  The days were long, the work intense and challenging creatively, emotionally and physically. 

For five weeks I got to spend time with truly inspirational individuals who come from different walks of life. We were like a big bag of pick ‘n’ mix sweets; fizzy, chewy, tangy, fruity, all of us deliciously different in our own ways but somehow we all gelled and the chemistry was cosmic.  I have never seen theatre be such an important part of peoples’ lives as it is with this company. They risk their lives for causes they believe in and address issues that are swept under the carpet.  A lot of people, including myself, take for granted and underestimate the power of theatre; this company use theatre as a platform for change that has attracted international attention and support from influential figures.  I have had the honour of witnessing their passion and zeal for justice, equality and freedom of expression. I have had the honour of working with experienced, creative talent who are happy to pass on their knowledge to young bucks such as myself.

Even though I had done a three week workshop with the company last year, nothing prepared me for the intensity of this project. These people mean serious business. I was overwhelmed with working with the company as a new member, being far from home in London, listening and absorbing the incredible stories which had to be translated into the show.  It drove home how important this project was for the people whose stories are being told. It drove home how important it is that people are confronted with these stories and shown that these events are happening, and in silence.

BFT have been a family to me and to say they have welcomed me with open arms is an understatement. Who would have thought that little ol’ me who met them for the first time at a workshop less than a year ago would be their lead woman in a production like this.  Thank you for believing in me, thank you for the opportunity.

Red Forest opens at the Young Vic on 12 June and runs until 5 July. Click here to see the trailer or visit www.youngvic.org to book tickets.

Belarus Free Theatre’s Red Forest research expedition: From Kolkata to Mumbai

Seven days in to their trip and Red Forest’s choreographer Bridget Fiske and lighting designer Andrew Crofts head to Mumbai for the next part of their research expedition.


image[1]BF:  An early morning walk and the streets of Kolkata were more peaceful. We walked the hour or so to Kalighat.

AC:  The temple was colourful and busy with traders selling flowers, red powder and coloured twine for making offerings. At one end of the sanctum was a room for sacrifices, the floor stained red from flowers, powder and blood. A couple of unsuspecting goats garlanded with flowers waited outside.

BF:  Inside the temple a Brahman man started to share the story of the temple. The temple is adorned with three crowns, creation, preservation and destruction. It is perhaps obvious but interesting to think of these in relationship to Red Forest. As I travel I am trying to understand more about individuals and community’s spirituality and its relationship to nature as well as patterns and cycles in life.

AC:  We then raced to catch our flight to Mumbai having squeezed all this in to the morning. Arriving in Mumbai was a huge shift, the levels of development and urbanisation are so striking here with Asia’s largest slum, the world’s most expensive property and everything in between fighting for space on this compact peninsula.


image003[5]AC:  This morning we headed over to the The Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS) an entire university dedicated to the postgraduate study of a variety of subjects from a position of social science and with an emphasis on social justice. They also house the Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management.

BF:   Surinder Jaswal was our first meeting. Surinder shared with us about the work of TISS, how they define disaster (from personal, through to natural, through to terrorism), how their work in social sciences is understanding the impacts of disaster on vulnerable communities. We were joined by her colleague from the Disaster Management Centre who informed us of mental health impacts and concerns in mental health support offered to people who have experienced disaster. From this meeting we were then able to travel the campuses meeting varying experts in their respective fields, this included experts in food security, mining and cyclone history.

AC:     For the second time on this trip I was left with a sore brain after meeting such remarkable minds. It felt like all the knowledge and research being accumulated in this university had a real social purpose and goes on to make a real impact in society, visibly improving things for people on the ground and improving the ways in which governments and NGOs respond to disasters and ongoing problems.


Day 9BF:  In the trusted hands of Zachary Coffin, a film and theatre artist who also works for Amnesty International, we saw Mumbai through a local lens. We were taken to Versova Jetty, a fishing village that has the mega city of Mumbai looking over its shoulder, encroaching on and changing the way this community engages with their environment. There were also clear rubbish and water degradation issues.

AC: We spent the afternoon making contacts with some NGOs to help arrange tomorrow’s activities and then headed off for a meeting with Garima, a local journalist and editor. Our taxi driver managed to get a flat tyre, change it, have a crash with an auto-rickshaw and then a somewhat heated debate with its owner but still get us across town in just a little over two hours in the afternoon rush hour.

BF:  Garima shared with us many perspectives on many issues. The conversation seemed to continue to draw out the environmental issues of Mumbai. Garima also shared her account of the 2005 Mumbai floods that took the lives of 1000 people. It’s hard to hear when things could have been avoided that would make a difference to whether someone lives or dies when disaster hits. The more I listen to the story of Mumbai, the more I realise that climate change (including the changing of culture) and disaster are happening here in a very localised but magnified way.

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

Red Forest runs at the Young Vic from 12 June – 5 July, click here to book tickets or find out more.

Presented as part of LIFT 2014, a London-wide festival of performance and international theatre taking place 2 – 29 June. Tickets also available through the LIFT Box Office, where a transaction fee applies. 

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.