20 November 2017

Inside Pussy Riot at the Saatchi Gallery

Handcuffed, locked in a toilet and made to do prison work is just some of the things I experienced in the latest Les Enfants Terribles production, which aims to shed light on the Russian feminist protest punk rock group Pussy Riot.  Les Enfants Terribles are one of my favourite performing arts groups in the UK at the moment, so there was no way I could skip this show.  I was a huge fan of their Goosebumps Alive and Alice in Wonderland performances so needless to say my hopes and expectations were high.

This is the first time I’d seen them away from their usual venue of The Vaults to a smaller, more intimate space in the Saatchi Gallery.  Moreover this performance concerns a much heavier topic then the whimsical Alice and Goosebumps performances and needs to be treated with honesty, power and respect, so where they up to the task?
Les Enfants Terribles performances are all about immersive, interactive theatre with detailed sets and just a touch of the absurd and there was no change to that here.  There is one difference to their usual style of immersive performance here that is the use of Brechtian techniques, several times during the performance actors will tell step out of character and tell you that they are in fact just actors.  This is a theatrical technique usually employed to keep the audience on their toes and thinking about the situation they are in rather than just observing passively, however here it did serve to kill some of the drama and anxiety necessary to the performance.

As you go from room to room noise from the other scenes are distracting at times while also breaks the audience away from the show.  The production style is the usual high standard, with all scenery, sets, costumes, sound and lighting being equal parts fascinating, detailed and a stark reminder of the reality of Pussy Riot's trial and imprisonment.  Nowhere has the term “clown court” been taken more literally!
With these shows I can’t go into specifics as it really needs to be experienced a fresh, but I will say that through the course of the event not only did I learn about the events surrounding the arrest and imprisonment of members of Pussy Riot but I also learnt a lot about myself.  I was amazed at just how easily I went along with what I was being told to do by authorities, committing myself completely to menial tasks with no real reason.  Furthermore there was a real camaraderie that developed between our group of 12, helping each other out and trying to stop situations, as a social experiment it was fascinating.  

There was one moment in particular near the start which really raised anxiety, largely due to the amazing performances by the actor, but other than this I was surprised by how tame the show was.  Knowing and hearing about the atrocities and human rights violations that happened during this period it seemed to slightly lack the feeling of power and energy for change.  Similarly the call to action at the end wasn’t quite hammered home in a powerful manner which was a missed opportunity.  It was enjoyable and uncomfortable to just the right level, but it could have been turned up a notch to really grab the audience.
That isn’t to say this isn’t a show worth seeing, it is engaging, unique and really important both in the show and message.  Les Enfants Terribles have set such a high bar in previous performances that expectations are high and that is why it’s such a shame audience were left a little flat.  It felt like it was a couple of rehearsals shy of a full performance.

It’s a physical show, you are on your feel throughout and are expected to don your balaclava and really immerse yourself.  Grab a ticket and join the revolution! Catch Inside Pussy Riot at the Saatchi Gallery until the 24th of December, tickets are between £21.50 and £37 and are available here.
*I received complimentary tickets in exchange for an honest review, all words and opinions are my own
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