Little Hero at White Bear Theatre
Entering the theatre, you would be forgiven for thinking this play is set in the 1980s, as classic gay clubbing anthems from the likes of Frankie goes to Hollywood blare out into the room. The opening scene is rather surreal as a striking young man bursts onto the stage played by an effervescent Jamie Foulkes, dancing for the audience whilst explaining that we are in fact in contemporary Russia, dealing with the aftermath of the “gay propaganda law” of 2013.
The story itself was penned by gay activist Valeriy Pecheykin in 2014 and published in the Mitin Journal, an underground magazine in Russia. With little or no chance of ever being performed in its home country, an abridged version of the drama was staged in New York later that same year. This adaptation came into being through a successful crowdfunding campaign, and has now set up shop in the small theatre above the White Bear pub.
As a result, the piece does have the feeling of being a little makeshift. A slightly random set does well to demonstrate the dark underbelly of homophobia that runs through the society, but feels a tad jarring in the early scenes in which this is yet to be exposed. The display of front doors with neon lighting feels a bit haphazard, and the costumes a little dodgy.
However, all things considered, the actors manage to create an atmosphere of tension whilst also successfully bringing some dark humour to difficult subject matter.
At times, there are lines that feel awkward and out of place; whether this is translation or interpretation remains to be seen but the actors do well to move past them even with minor reactions from the audience. Simon Stallard gives a convincing performance as the evil Vovochka, even missing out on an initial applause from spectators due to the animosity towards his character. He – along with the rest of the cast – struggles at times with an uneven script.
However, for all its faults the play does illuminate a real issue, presenting an interesting juxtaposition between the realities of being gay in modern-day Russia and a dark dystopian future which for many probably doesn’t feel so far away. A Little Hero touches on something very important, even if it sometimes struggles to get the words out.
Little Hero is at White Bear Theatre from 7th August until 25th August 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.