Trash Cuisine at the Young Vic
Undeniably one of the world’s bravest theatre companies, Belarus Free Theatre is not welcome in its own country. Regarded as Europe’s last dictatorship, Belarus is also the only country in Europe still practising capital punishment. The company exists to fight this regime and any others employing torture – and all without state funding.
With credentials like these, it is tempting to give their work a good review regardless of its quality. Trash Cuisine though, their first English language production, lets them down. Exploring torture, genocide, and execution on a global scale, from Ireland to Belarus via Rwanda and Georgia, the company brings horrific factual stories quite literally to the table. Using food as a metaphor for human atrocity, citing the French tradition for cooking force-fed birds and frying steak in order to highlight a gut-wrenching story about cooked human flesh, this culinary journey isn’t for the squeamish.
The use of food works well on these two occasions, the smell of cooked steak drifting around the room as the compère talks about the Rwandan genocide is certainly a shocking attack on the senses (a tactic the company uses on more than one occasion, mirroring the torturers’ methods), while the example of animal cruelty highlights humanity’s potential for acts of gross obscenity. The metaphor though is far from sustainable. Indeed, the first scene in which strawberries and cream are used to explore execution seems confused, especially after a frankly inexplicable bout of operatic singing.
Shakespeare is also thrown into the mix, along with some attempts at very black humour, which only extract a few nervous giggles from the audience. It seems that by expanding its reach (former shows have been solely about Belarus) the company has overstretched itself and missed its target. Indeed, it’s the last story about the arrest and execution of a young Belarusian man for a crime he didn’t commit that is the night’s most hard-hitting, particularly when the company sings.
Belarus Free Theatre is clearly a courageous and remarkable company, and much of the show is visually interesting, particularly the final onion chopping scene (though don’t sit in the front row unless you’re prepared to get dirty). But by taking on the human rights abuses of the whole world, they have lost some of their impact and instead of leaving you with the urge to protest, they may leave you with compassion fatigue.
Trash Cuisine is at the Young Vic until 15th June 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.