A rapid-response to this year’s winter Olympics, Tess Berry Hart’s Sochi 2014 draws on verbatim testimony and research to discuss the outlawing and persecution of homosexuality in Russia today. Responding to the their intimate playing space, the actors enter the theatre along with the audience and sit among us. This neatly solves a practical problem whilst simultaneously making a point as the actors reveal themselves.
Many of the verbatim quotes from the main players are undeniably abhorrent and the apparent neutrality of organisations such as the Olympic Committee is laughable. But there is little theatricality to the piece itself. Screens at the back of the stage identify who is speaking but the shifts between quotations and written text are so swift and indistinct that it is difficult to tell which is which.
A study which they quote states that it is harder to maintain gay stereotypes if you know somebody who is gay. Potentially supporting the hackneyed defence of ‘I can’t be homophobic, some of my best friends are gay’. And the fact that 7% of the Russian population do know someone gay is a rallying call. But the material is not creatively interpreted, rather the information is presented to the audience as if we should already know what to do with it.
Re-enactments of incidents of abuse are also included, as a contrast to the direct address adopted elsewhere. These short scenes are recreated with relish by the cast but eventually become repetitive and fail to communicate the horror that the original footage conveys.
From the outset it is clear that this is a Speaker’s Corner kind of play. The opinion of the creative team is clear and vigorously delivered by the committed cast of five. It is an admirable project and it is encouraging that such a young company has taken up the mantle of discussing contemporary political issues. The staging is simple and at times effective. The tone is urgent and the performers clear and positive.
But, perhaps as a result of its fast turnaround, this piece falls to unpick the issue in great detail despite the fact that extensive research has clearly gone into its making.