‘Opus 7’ reviewed
by Mike Quille writing in the Morning Star
‘Opus 7’ is a piece of modern Russian physical theatre, an all-embracing, multi-media performance of breathtaking power and imagination, which almost defies description. There is dance, music, painting, circus, film, puppetry, song and special effects in the double bill, which deals with the fate of the Jews in the Holocaust and the more ambiguous story of the Soviet treatment of Shostakovich and other artists.
In the first piece, the horror of the Holocaust is evoked by film of a jackbooted Gestapo officer kicking a pram, which then physically erupts through a wall onto the stage, crashing into piles of victims’ spectacles, while a pair of red children’s shoes is slowly, movingly walked across the stage. Paint is splashed against the walls, forming images of Jewish children and Hassidic men, and old photographs illustrate a stream of random, spoken snippets of information about individual Jews. Then suddenly the walls of the set collapse, and massive wind generators blow thousands of bits of paper, the lost lives of European and Russian Jewry, into the auditorium.
In the second piece, Soviet proletarians (played by the actual stage hands) make, hammer and plane a piano into shape, and Shostakovich emerges from it. Then a 15 foot high puppet representing Mother Russia (but also donning a commissar’s cap) appears on stage. It starts by nurturing Shostakovich, but then chases him round the stage, taking potshots at him and other Soviet artists and victims of the Purges, and ends by smothering the life out of him.
Striking visual images express the conflicted relationship between State and artists in the Soviet Union. Flowers in their buttonholes look like gunshot wounds, and the pin on the medal honouring Shostakovich runs through the his chest. The clash of art and politics becomes a loud, frightening dodgems of grand pianos, clashing and crashing into each other across the stage, with the composer’s symphonies in the background.
It is surreal and imagistic, with an emotional, wordless, dreamlike logic, at times descending into a nightmare. Like shots of strong Russian vodka, it goes straight to your head, heart and stomach, in a fast-moving flow of visually stunning tableaux, by turns comedic and sinister, tender and violent.
This is genuinely new, original theatre, a spectacular fusion of genres if not a new genre in itself. ‘Opus 7’ has just finished its UK tour, but next time Dmitry Krymov’s company comes to the UK, go and see whatever they do. You will not have seen anything like it before.
‘Opus 7’ played at Northern Stage, Newcastle.