Pros: Deeply moving stories from six very talented actors.
Cons: The structure of the retelling is sometimes confusing.
On 26th April 1986, Reactor Number 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded, causing the worst nuclear disaster in history. The explosion was so monumental and so toxic that the vicinity is still considered a no-go area thirty years later, though many still do visit (there is even a hotel in the town for tourists).
In 1997 Voices from Chernobyl was published in Russian by Nobel Peace Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian writer and journalist. She collated hundreds of interviews from victims, witnesses, doctors and officials and transcribed their words into a book that told their version of the devastating story of Chernobyl. Today, adapted and directed by Germán D’Jesús, it premieres as a stage play at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley.
This short sixty minute retelling of the events is performed by six equally compelling actors who embody the voices of Chernobyl in an honest and touching way, transporting us through different times, people and opinions. There is not a particular plot to this play, rather a collection of thoughts, feelings and explanations: what happened on that frightful day, the bravery of the men and women and the effects thereafter. One of the most memorable stories told comes towards the end from actress Kim Christie who portrays her character’s experience tremendously. Newly married and still holding her husband’s hand wherever she goes, he is called to put out a fire at the plant. Unbeknownst to him, he is one of the first at the scene, breathing in gallons of the surrounding toxic air. Rushed to hospital, his pregnant young wife describes how she is forced to watch her contagious husband, whom she is encouraged not to go near, slowly and painfully pass away. In her speech, she professes how oblivious she was of the amount of love she held in her heart for him and how happy they were until he died, leading us to contemplate the true power of love.
Director D’Jesús has chosen to have actor Oleg Sidorchik speak Russian throughout and though we are provided with surtitles projected on to walls, this artistic decision subtly suggests that as outsiders we can never truly understand exactly what happened. It is certainly an admirable piece and one that no doubts deserves to be seen. Had it not been for the bravery of some of the workers, the explosion could have been much bigger, possibly throwing its toxic radiation into Europe, making it an even bigger part of history to know about. My only criticism of the piece is its structure. Adapted from a book, you can’t help but wonder if translating it for the stage actually takes some of the clarity away. Constantly flitting to different voices can be confusing, especially as the voices that speak are not organised chronologically. There are so many stories wedged into this sixty minute show that you are never really given the chance to take on board what has been said, making it much harder to connect and empathise with.
Regardless, it is a very moving piece and you do find yourself questioning what you would do if you were in that situation and being grateful for never having witnessed such horror.
Written by: Svetlana Alexievich
Translated by: Keith Gessen
Adapted and Directed by: Germán D’Jesús
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: http://www.brockleyjack.co.uk/
Booking Until: 13/05/17