BWW Review: INSIDE PUSSY RIOT, Saatchi Gallery
Inside Pussy Riot is an immersive, provocative experience, not for the faint of heart. This innovative performance was created by Les Enfants Terrible and the Tsukanov Family Foundation, in collaboration with Pussy Riot co-founder Nadya Tolokonnikova and Bird & Carrot. The piece puts the audience in the place of Pussy Riot as they stage a protest and are later imprisoned.
The show is based on the experiences of the Russian feminist punk rock group who famously staged a protest at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 2012. Several group members were arrested and sentenced to serve time in prison.
When a show begins with you having to fill out a form, you know it's going to be a bit different. After arrival, guests complete a questionnaire including things like age, social media handles, and why they purchased a ticket. They are also asked to choose from a series of positive affirmations ranging from a belief in gender equality to a statement that power and money are not synonymous.
Upon entry, each guest is stamped with a shape and a number. These signs shape your experience of the show. Thus, each person's experience will be slightly different. The audience are divided into small groups of about a dozen people for the performance.
After a briefing, each guest is given a placard with a slogan that corresponds to their chosen belief and a balaclava, or a cloth mask. Thus begins their journey through the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a courtroom, and finally a prison. The performance runs for 60 minutes and the audience is on their feet, moving through different rooms, for most of that time.
Highlights of the experience include a funny but chilling interrogation in the police station and a trial run by a judge who is attached to strings like a puppet of the state. Her clownish performance jumps between flippant hilarity and frightening, unhinged glee at punishing the accused (which is to say, the audience).
After being found guilty, the audience is guided to prison and made to put on uniforms and complete small menial work tasks, like counting coins. All the while, information is given about the actual experiences of Pussy Riot members in jail and others who have suffered under unthinkable conditions in Russia.
At times, the cast will gently remind the guests that this is only a performance and not real, but it is all too easy to get swept up in the simulation. The cast is composed of a group of young females in their twenties and thirties, like the women of Pussy Riot, who all play multiple roles. They manage to bring out the humour in a horrible situation, without ever losing its gravity.
This performance coincides with Saatchi Gallery's Art Riot exhibition, showing how art has been used as a form of protest in Russia. It also marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Throughout, it's highlighted how relevant the piece is to today, via images of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Inside Pussy Riot is certainly not for everyone. Guests under the age of 14 years old are not allowed and anyone aged 14 to 16 must be accompanied by an adult. The show has minor nudity and themes of imprisonment and human rights abuse.
Moreover, guests are asked to go through small spaces, simulate being in prison, and are even placed in mock solitary confinement. Anyone with claustrophobia or sensory issues would likely struggle with this show. Even beyond that, it can be overwhelming and uncomfortable, and potentially frightening in parts.
But the show is a strong reminder to the audience of what freedom truly means and how people often take for granted their ability to express themselves. If at times it's a bit heavy-handed in delivery, it's a message that is increasingly relevant in today's political climate. At the end, guests are provided with a handout that gives suggestions for what they can do to use their voice, from taking part in a protest to signing a petition online.
While Inside Pussy Riot may leave its audiences a bit shaken, it's brilliant for what it is. It reminds viewers of the lack of freedom that people still experience across the world in a completely effective way. The cast are universally brilliant in their roles, and the show immerses its audience in way few productions dare to.
Photo Credit: Kenny Mathieson