Review: PUSSYCAT IN MEMORY OF DARKNESS, Finborough Theatre

The personal is political in this furious elegy for a nation under attack

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MATILDA THE MUSICAL Announces West End Extension; See New Footage From the Show!Stab! Stab! Stab! Hot blood spills out across Earl's Court. Chronicling Russia's first annexation of Crimea, Pussycat in Memory of Darkness is wielded like a jagged blade goring its victim in a furious trance of savagery. Its prophetic vision of violence as relentless as it is terrifying to watch.

It starts with Kristin Milward's unnamed character pleading with us to buy a kitten. She is frail, thinning with unspoken stress that permeates through every layer of her being. She takes off her sunglasses, bloodshot eyes surrounded by black bruises boil underneath.

It is through those bloodshot eyes we see the political turbulence of the 2014 invasion of the Donbas. She unpicks her memories of protests shut down brutally by authorities with frenetic terror. Soon her life is crumbling. Paranoia rains down from all angles but Ukrainian Writer Neda Nezhdana's writing never forgets the human cost in amongst the politics.

Milward's character finds the space to ponder wider questions over and above the immediacy of the story. She ponders Crimea's brutal history. Crimean Tatars were ethnically cleansed by Stalin in 1944. What is the nature of land and culture? What is it to be a Ukrainian?

She follows these threads to the play's central tapestry: at what point would you abandon your home in fear of your life? The resonance is painfully apparent. It chimes with the war in Ukraine today, but also with war in general; anyone whose ancestors fled war or persecution will feel the weight of its pressing interrogation. The unnamed protagonist is betrayed by her slimy neighbour to the invaders. She is tortured and eventually forced to waive her property in a symbolic relinquishing of her history.

It's a truism that translation is an underappreciated art, and translator John Farndon delicately carves the language with precision allowing Nezhdana's boiling anger to bubble through each line. The heat is palpable, but the production trips up by constricting itself. Without any breathing room, the play becomes an onslaught. It's still digestible given the short sharp performance, but the knife-like writing could penetrate deeper if it allowed itself a chance to catch its breathe and gather its strength before taking another swing at the audience.

The direction slices up the monologue. Sections are split by projections displaying photos from the 2014 conflict. It organically breaks the piece's flow, but it's the emotional pacing that needs addressing by returning to the script. Pussycat in Memory of Darkness is undoubtably a furious piece of theatre, but never quite burrows under the skin.

Pussycat in Memory of Darkness plays at the Finborough Theatre until 22 April

Photo Credit: Charles Flint


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