This week, the Royal Court is hosting a verbatim piece based on the testimonies of protestors from across the social spectrum who filled Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square for four months to February 2014 in protest against then-President Yanukovych.
Those protests, which saw two million take to the streets in protest against Yanukovych’s alliance with Putin’s Russia, ended in brutal violence as the wrath of a dictator raging against a popular uprising was unleashed on an unarmed populace.
To prepare this work, playwright Natal’ya Vorozhbit and director Andrei Mai spent three months on the Maidan talking to people from all walks of life, from students to Cossacks, from doctors to volunteers.
And all these voices have been brought together in these readings to bring to life the timeline of events from November 22 2013, when news spread of Yanukovych’s plan to withdraw from closer integration with the EU, to February 22 2014 when the President finally fled.
A crude map of Maidan, its landmarks and its surrounding streets was chalked up on the wall on the side of the stage. Behind the actors, evocative photos from the protests were projected on to the wall, as well as snaps of some of those who spoke to Vorozhbit and Mai.
These were pretty good ways of getting us ‘on the ground’ with the protestors, and being able to follow their moments as they moved from the Cathedral to the monument, from Maidan to the Assembly.
Being a writer with a political slant myself, I find pieces of work like this hugely important and have huge admiration for the work that the two writers undertook.
As Nata’ya Vorozhbit said “There were so many writers, musicians, artists and directors all working on the Maidan. The level of involvement was striking. We were performing our duty to society, as well as to art. Our task has been to capture the reality, to challenge stereotypes and open people’s eyes to what is happening in Ukraine, as outside Ukraine there are so many misconceptions.”
And in their ambitions the writers have certainly succeeded.
The testimonies really got under the skin of the footage we saw on TV. All we saw in the West were the huge crowds and through these individual stories we were able to finally understand what motivated people from all across Ukraine to travel to Kiev, away from their homes, and stay there for months.
Whether it was the 16 year old students from the Facebook generation or the Cossacks from the impoverished rural areas, the opinions gathered were diverse and illuminating, with moments of real humour breaking up some very dark testimony. It was also very moving to hear and to feel how these protestors found themselves invigorated by their bravery, and how many of them found meaning to their life through their defiance.
The staged reading was directed by Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director at the Royal Court, and it was superbly done. The actors moved dynamically across the stage and imbued their characters with real depth and complexity.
This was a very energetic rehearsed reading that really brought to life the chaos of those weeks. How the titushky (unidentified men responsible for many of the beatings of protestors) were coordinating attacks on the crowds to divide and conquer. But also how those demarcation lines were not clear cut.
Individual acts of brutality such as the beatings that killed a woman making Molotov cocktails were harrowing but also surprising were those berkut (Ukranian special police) who protected some of the protestors from excessive violence.
For these months, Ukraine teetered on the brink of civil war. And though Yanukoych is now gone, Ukraine’s situation has not improved. How events will unfold from here we cannot possibly tell.
Events have moved so quickly that the world has already moved on from the images of unity and sacrifice. And with that in mind, it’s so important that voices from that crucial period of time have been caught and represented here so well.
We wait to witness the long-term impact of those incredible events of Maidan.
Royal Court Theatre, London to May 24, 2014