‘The Point of No Return’ and discussion on ‘Ukraine then and now’ at New Diorama Theatre

From the end of April to the end of May, the play ‘The Point of No Return’ runs at New Diorama Theatre, alongside a number of post-show panel discussions. On 30 April, the show was followed by a conversation on the legacy of Euromaidan with Dr. Rory Finnin from Cambridge University, writer and director of the play Tommy Lexen, and Ukrainian producer, actor and playwright Dmytro Ternovyi.

20150430_221956‘The Point of No Return’, a result of collaboration between BeFrank Theatre Company and their Ukrainian partners Theatre na Zhukah, explores the stories of people involved in the last, and most violent, four days of the Ukrainian revolution in February 2014. Extensive research, trips to Ukraine, interviews with Euromaidan participants, and discussions with experts provide the production with a solid background.

Although no references are made to real people or countries, the atmosphere portrayed on the stage is very recognisable, especially for those who followed the developments of the winter of 2013-2014. The performance deals with a highly topical issue of ordinary citizens involved in dramatic events related to the civic uprising. The action is fast-paced and dynamic, and while each of the actors has a few roles to play, they switch between the scenes smoothly, allowing the intertwining storylines to form parts of something bigger, just like the individual stories were part of the bigger process of Euromaidan. Actors and props are well coordinated; together with the creative approach to incorporation of various materials, from rubber and metal to water and rope, and the use of interplay between light and darkness, this provides, at times, an almost tangible experience.

The second act of the play is slightly less impressive, starting off a bit sloppy, and later on hovering on the verge of cliché a couple of times, with the poignancy occasionally turning into pathos. However, overall the play leaves an impression of a well-researched piece that is both emotional and technically coordinated, and makes a decent attempt at exploring the diversity of experiences entangled in a process of major historical, political and cultural importance.

In the panel discussion after the play, Dr Rory Finnin, Tommy Lexen, and Dmytro Ternovyi spoke about the implications of the Maidan both in Ukraine and in the West, and the shift between Ukraine ‘then’ and ‘now’.

Tommy Lexen described how he became obsessed with the story – and stories – behind the Euromaidan since its start in November 2013, and worked to obtain first-hand information about participation in the events that unfolded during the revolution. The very idea of the play, according to Lexen, was born out of the questions: What about the people behind it all? Would we, in the West, do the same? What would we do? The play was an opportunity to take a story from ‘outside of our life’ and take it back, trying to make Ukraine more accessible to the ‘Western’ audience, said the director.

Dmytro Ternovyi from Kharkiv’s Theatre na Zhukah stressed the role of the Maidan as not just a political but also cultural event. While Ukrainian art used to be seen as traditional and archaic, Maidan allowed it to be seen as something modern. The flourishing of art in contemporary Ukraine, especially taking into account the ongoing war with Russia, was spoken about very warmly.

Rory Finnin, who also contributed to the play with his previous discussions with the cast, underlined that Maidan shouldn’t have been a surprise. Protest has been a frame for the Ukrainian cultural society going back to 17th-18th century. The importance of the play, according to Dr Finnin, lies in its ability to help think about the bigger picture, about people achieving something remarkable, and tackle issues of a global significance like struggle for democracy or state violence. At the same time, this art piece is assertive in its approach to the civic and political agency of the Ukrainian people; Dr Finnin reminded of the critical importance of seeing the people of Ukraine not as objects but as active subjects of their own story.

While, according to its director, the play is concerned with questioning what would happen if these events took place in the streets of a Western city, there is another, no less significant issue pertaining to this work: the quandaries of representation. For that matter, the play – as well as the making of it – is also a reflection of the power relations and the constructions of ‘the East’ and ‘The West’. Can the West represent Ukraine? Can a London-based team with a Swedish director represent the people who took part in the Maidan? Are you giving voice or appropriating their ability to speak for themselves? To what extent are Ukrainians active subjects in the play?

It seems that the creators of this play must have given a thought to these questions. This is suggested by the amount of research underlying the production. As well, the stress on the multiplicity of truths revealed and uncovered by the processes triggered by the Maidan is a way to avoid the potential risks connected with the politics of representation. The multivocality and fluidity of the events unfolding on the stage are appropriate artistic devices to do that.

Audience reviews

I think the play was really good. The actors seemed focused and concentrated, and their actions were well coordinated. I enjoyed how they shifted between the roles, working both emotionally and realistically. They were really making an effort. I understood pretty much everything, except the moments when some other languages seemed to be spoken from the barricades – but I think it’s the question to the director. The play was a very emotional experience for me; I felt like I travelled back in time to the Maidan period, a time of great expectations and a big tragedy. (Yaroslav)

It might take years to understand and to heal the trauma of the Maidan protests, especially the violence which unfolded in the final stages of the protests. Artistic representation of these events could be a way to work through the conflicting emotions raised by the Maidan. One of the main achievements of the ‘Point of No Return’ is that it tries to tell a number of stories, avoiding the usual black-and-white portrayal of the events. (Olesya)

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