Belarus Free Theatre’s utterly incomprehensible adaptation of Sasha Sokolov’s novel – over Zoom, with subtitles
To adapt an avant-garde, non-linear Russian novel about a schizophrenic schoolboy and his split personality, and to perform that adaptation over Zoom with a cast of 12 self-isolating actors in Russian with subtitles is not something the average theatre company would attempt. But then Belarus Free Theatre is not the average theatre company.
For fifteen years, the underground group has been performing covertly in Belarus and touring internationally, sometimes taking great personal risks to protest against its country’s authoritarian government. Its shows, though – how to put it? – are not exactly easy-going. And so it is with A School for Fools, the company’s first ’online premiere’, streamed live from the bedrooms and bathrooms of its separated members.
Sasha Sokolov’s novel, written in the 1960s but not formally published until much later, hops around in time and perspective and everything else, roughly following a nameless boy – “Student So-and-so” – and his experiences at a school for the mentally ill. Adapter and director Pavel Haradnitski’s live-streamed version makes a commendable stab at finding a theatrical form for it, but viewers are utterly at sea nonetheless.
There are some entertainingly over-the-top performances and imaginative use of mirrors and drones, and huge credit must go to Haradnitski and broadcast director Svetlana Sugako for wrestling it into 100 minutes, but watching it in subtitled Russian over slightly dodgy Wi-Fi, is attempting to untie the Gordian Knot.
A School for Fools isn’t meant to make much sense. But it is meant to make more sense than this.