Reviews West End & Central Published 11 November 2015

Time of Women

Young Vic ⋄ 9th - 10th November 2015

A meditative celebration of female power.

Verity Healey
time of women

Irina Khalip, Natalya Radina and Nasta Palazhanka share a cell in Time of Women.

If Time of Women feels like two fingers up to Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko it’s probably because its cowriter and cofounder of Belarus Free Theatre, Natalia Kaliada, was prevented by the oppressive regime from finishing her PhD on ‘Women’s role in the anti-Soviet movement’. Now she jokes that her next PhD has to be on ‘Women’s role in resisting the dictatorship in Belarus’ and this play is a good start – it’s an immediate, hot and passionate true account of three female journalist and activists arrested for protesting peacefully, who find themselves sharing the same three-bunk cell together.

Unlike so many of BFT’s other works that merge art, documentary, politics and social realism, this UK premiere of Time of Women does not begin with a burst of high frenetic energy, although the panicked and frightened radio excerpt from journalist Irina Khalip’s arrest at the protests during 2010’s elections (she was on air with Radio Moscow at the time) heightens our anxiety and sets the tone for the KGB’s bullying tactics later on.

No, it seems that the work, exploring new aesthetic directions with director Nicolai Khalezin at the helm, is more interested in looking at how the three women – Irina Khalip, Natalya Radina and the youngest at 24, Nasta Palazhanka – survive the harshness of this smelly prison (smells of hopelessness) controlled by sad and surreal KGB officers who try to outwit the prisoners in a series of mind games that attempt to belittle, cajole and coax the women into grassing each other up in order for a little bit of freedom or a lighter sentence.

The use of CCTV cameras give us a taste of how the women lack privacy in their own cell, and for a large amount of time, the audience cannot see inside this ugly contraption, except through the TV screens; we watch them in the same way the KGB officers watch the women. It makes the audience feel slightly culpable, slightly guilty, slightly apart and claustrophobic. An aerial camera pointing straight down on the bunks makes the women seem like large, vulnerable babies wrapped in cots. Babies they are not though, as we soon see how each has their own way of dealing with their interrogator, who adds a peculiar kitchen sink realism with his musings on his communal domestic arrangements in his digs. It all gets a bit surreal when the women seem to be drawn into becoming – against their will – slightly parental towards this schizophrenic mood-changing agent, whose talk can only extol his own “use” to the dictatorship whilst slurping mayonnaise noodles. And at the part where the less experienced Nasta loses it and demands the loo, we feel that the preventative hug that the agent haphazardly throws around her, is more for him than for her.

There’s a calmness about the production and it pays testament to the women’s inner strength, self discipline and sense of solidarity which, we learn, is greater in prison than in a house arrest. We see that these traits help them survive. Their days are rigorously planned, rising together at a certain time, making coffee, helping each other to wash or use the toilet in private, back chatting and talking about books. And then, almost in tableau, comes a breathtakingly beautiful moment – when the projector screen becomes a transparent 4th wall and we see through to the cell at the same moment that its video image is projected onto it in a prolonged dissolve. This moment is icy still and visually depicts the paralysis of the women’s lives as they languish unfairly in prison.

Later, when Nasta is on the top bunk and the fourth wall has disappeared and we can only see the women via CCTV again, she talks straight into the camera and directly addresses us – we know then that the end is nigh for the women in jail and that some sort of turning point has been reached.

This poetic and meditative piece, which has all the mystical qualities of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood, concludes on a positive, if muted note. These women have survived and they are free, and they aren’t quitting the fight against his regime any time soon. There’s a point half way through the play when a KGB agent accuses one of the women of inciting otherwise peaceful men into violent protest. As we see, women are indeed more than involved in the fight back against the dictatorship and, if the discussion afterwards is anything to go by, it’s not over yet.

Time of Women is part of Belarus Free Theatre’s Staging a Revolution, a two week festival of performances and discussion platforms from Belarus Free Theatre to mark their 10th anniversary in 2015 (2nd – 14th November).

Performances and discussions will be live-streamed here:


Verity Healey

Verity writes for and contributes to Ministry of Counterculture and is a film facilitator for Bigfoot Arts Education. She is also a published short story writer and filmmaker.

Time of Women Show Info

Produced by Belarus Free Theatre

Directed by Nicolai Khalezin

Written by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada

Cast includes Kiryl Kanstantsinau, Maryia Sazonava, Yana Rusakevich, Maryna Yurevich



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