Home » Reviews » Drama » Inside Pussy Riot, Saatchi Gallery – Review
Credit: Kenny Mathieson, Design - Zoe Koperski
Credit: Kenny Mathieson, Design - Zoe Koperski

Inside Pussy Riot, Saatchi Gallery – Review

Pros: An immersive, engaging show about imprisonment and the suppression of free speech.

Cons: Too tame; the cast could have pushed the audience much further.

Pros: An immersive, engaging show about imprisonment and the suppression of free speech. Cons: Too tame; the cast could have pushed the audience much further. In 2012, the anarchist punk group Pussy Riot staged an impromptu protest performance in a cathedral. But because Pussy Riot are a Russian group, and the cathedral was in Moscow, rather than merely receiving a slap on the wrist they were sentenced to two years in a labour camp 250 miles away from their families. Inside Pussy Riot puts the audience in the position of the renegade band. In small groups of just fourteen…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

Experience two years of Russian injustice and imprisonment in just 60 minutes.

User Rating: Be the first one !

In 2012, the anarchist punk group Pussy Riot staged an impromptu protest performance in a cathedral. But because Pussy Riot are a Russian group, and the cathedral was in Moscow, rather than merely receiving a slap on the wrist they were sentenced to two years in a labour camp 250 miles away from their families.

Inside Pussy Riot puts the audience in the position of the renegade band. In small groups of just fourteen you’re given a briefing by, rather bizarrely, a woman who’s more Roedean than KGB, and told to don a balaclava – the incognito headgear worn by Pussy Riot. You’re led into a representation of the cathedral with Gilbert and George style stained glass windows featuring not saints, but contemporary authority figures such as Putin, Trump, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Rupert Murdoch.

The arrest follows swiftly. You’re taken to a room in a police station staffed by pantomime Kafkaesque officers, full of playful self-contradiction and bogus authority, where you’re bombarded by absurd instructions. But when one member of the audience is singled out and made to strip, the mood changes: what had been an amusing romp through cartoon state authoritarianism becomes something altogether darker.

As the hour-long performance progresses you’re led through an increasingly labyrinthine maze of judicial and penitentiary locations. By the time you end up dressed in prison uniform in solitary confinement in pitch blackness, you begin to have a small sense of what Pussy Riot might have been through.

As a powerful piece of immersive theatre, Inside Pussy Riot carries you through two years of detention in just sixty minutes. With immaculately designed sets, an enthusiastic and committed cast and an ingenious layout, every element is set for a truly gruelling and thought-provoking experience. But sadly the production loses its nerve, treating the audience with kid gloves rather than iron fists. The Joyce Grenfell character, with her hockey sticks accent and air hostess manner, is strikingly incongruous in the stark prison setting; it smells of freshly sawn wood, rather than decades of uncleaned facilities.

The show is written by Oliver Lansley, founder and artistic director of Les Enfants Terribles, who were responsible for the acclaimed Alice’s Adventures Underground recently seen at The Vaults under Waterloo Station. The production shares the look and feel of Alice, most notably in the nightmarish, grotesque courtroom setting, and moves the audience between scenes with the same fluidity and sense of purpose. The associate writer is Nadia Tolokonnikova, one of the founding members of the real Pussy Riot.

Inside Pussy Riot is an entertaining, moving and thoroughly engaging show, but it could have been so much more; with the audience more than willing to be manhandled and mistreated, the production could have gone the extra mile and treated us with more contempt. You leave with a strong sense of the injustice of the original imprisonment, and a renewed belief in the power of everyday people to effect change; but unlike the real Pussy Riot, you don’t feel maltreated or oppressed, just lightly buffeted.

Staged inside the Saatchi Gallery, the show is accompanied by a show named Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism, featuring Russian art in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1917 revolution.

Writers: Nadia Tolokonnikova and Oliver Lansley
Director: Christa Harris
Producer: Les Enfants Terribles/Bird and Carrot
Booking Until: 24 December 2017
Box Office: 0871 230 5538
Booking Link: insidepussyriot.com/tickets

About Steve Caplin

Steve Caplin
Steve is a freelance artist and writer, specialising in Photoshop, who builds unlikely furniture in his spare time. He plays the piano reasonably well, the accordion moderately and the guitar badly. Steve does, of course, love the theatre. The worst play he ever saw starred Charlton Heston and his wife, who have both always wanted to play the London stage. Neither had any experience of learning lines. This was almost as scarring an experience as seeing Ron Moody performing a musical Sherlock Holmes. Steve has no acting ambitions whatsoever.