A School for Fools at Belarus Free Theatre Online
Belarus Free Theatre is no stranger to inventiveness. The company has always had to be resourceful in the way it brings its productions to the audience: it is forbidden to perform in Belarus for political reasons and BFT has operated underground during its 15 years of activity. The group began rehearsing A School For Fools before lockdown, and they didn’t let the enforced isolation stop them from completing it.
The online production uses the Zoom call format, with each of the 12 cast members connecting from their respective homes. The screen is split in two, four, or more squares to include the whole troupe or just a few actors, according to the scene. The play is staged in such a way that the performers sometimes seem to interact. They may face the direction of the actor on the other half of the screen or occasionally pass each other an object by reaching towards the edge of the frame, or even seem to share the same (similarly adorned) table or bed.
The premise of the production is intriguing and there are moments when the surrealist aspect manages to draw the audience in and make one feel as if entering a dream state. Without knowledge of the original story, however, the play is simply too disjointed to allow one to follow the main thread and tie up the numerous loose ends. Even if one accepts the impressionistic approach, there is very little in the stream of consciousness dialogues to help one find one’s bearings, let alone get hooked.
The story, based on the 1975 novel by Sasha Sokolov, is about a schizophrenic boy whose perspective the audience shares. The play features distorted memories, jumping backwards and forward in time, and internal voices debating and arguing with one another. The scenes are a succession of the boy’s encounters with authority figures; memories with his parents and other meetings that remain impressed in his mind; and then private reflections that give an insight into the activity inside his head.
While there is potential for an exhilarating ride exploring illusion and memory through the imagination and through comedy, the overall result feels too distant, sketchy and obscure to be engaging. The notable effort of the actors is also let down by the less-than-sophisticated devices used to capture the action. Nevertheless, one cannot help but admire the company for their commitment, resilience and adaptability.
Photo: Kolya Kuprich
A School for Fools is available to view live on Belarus Free Theatre’s YouTube Channel at 6pm on 18th June, 25th June, 2nd July and 9th July 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.