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Inside Pussy Riot review at Saatchi Gallery, London – ‘contrived and compromised’

Inside Pussy Riot at the Saatchi Gallery, London. Photo: Kenny Mathieson Inside Pussy Riot at the Saatchi Gallery, London. Photo: Kenny Mathieson
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It’s important to tell the story of Pussy Riot. It’s entirely laudable to give privileged Western audiences some idea of the systemic horrors endured by members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina. For performing 40 seconds of a punk prayer in a Moscow cathedral in 2011, they were arrested for hooliganism (and religious hatred) and dispatched to penal colonies.

But the erstwhile aims of Les Enfants Terribles’ immersive production, created in collaboration with Tolokonnikova, are unfortunately undermined, both in terms of content and context. It’s certainly ironic for this celebration of an all-female punk protest group to take place at the Saatchi Gallery, founded by notoriously proud feminist Charles Saatchi, in the most affluent area of London.

The show is also sponsored by the family foundation of a prominent Russian banker with a Kensington mansion. It seems like an avoidable hypocrisy, there being performance spaces around the city with genuine DIY punk ideals and broader demographics.

On the inside we dutifully don brightly coloured balaclavas and accept instructions from actors kitted out in grey uniforms or quasi-religious headgear. Though the design is detailed – a warped Orthodox cathedral featuring stained glass impressions of Trump, May and Putin; a drab work room where participants futilely thread needles and count coins – it’s a superficial experience overall.

Tolokonnikova’s own words are drowned out by barked orders. The circus aesthetic of the courtroom, with its elaborately made-up, cackling judge and giant nodding dog, doesn’t really do justice to the grimly repressive realities of the Russian state.

Verdict
Immersive show about Pussy Riot members’ prison experience that feels contrived and compromised
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