Natalya Vorozhbit’s exploration of women in war takes a while to get going, but escalates into something frightening, excruciating and abhorrent. Translated into dense, slightly cryptic English by poet and playwright Sasha Dugdale,
Vorozhbit’s play takes the form of stark and disconnected sketches, set in the smouldering war sparked by Ukraine’s Maidan revolution in 2013 – but this could be anywhere, any time there is conflict.
Under Vicky Featherstone’s direction each impressionistic scene combines real with abstract, much like the play itself, which makes its points in splinters of narrative. During some intense exchanges – as when a soldier washes his urine off the woman he’s captured to rape – Featherstone places actors on opposite sides of the stage. She proves that you don’t have to show the audience horror for something to be horrific.
Despite its grim subject matter, the play is often surprisingly still and quiet, and occasionally funny too. Nick Powell’s sound design combined with Natasha Chivers’ lighting turn this attic space into countless worlds, from a claustrophobic van to an echoing warehouse to a vast forest.
Several of these scenes are love stories, with the deprivations of war getting in the way. The stories are augmented by a really fine cast, with two particularly devastating performances from Ronke Adekoluejo and Ria Zmitrowicz. Adekoluejo’s huge, chaotic delivery, making mess everywhere, is a thrilling contrast to Zmitrowicz’s optimism and endurance as a captive journalist. It’s almost unbearable to watch.
It’s hard to believe that so many strange and desolate worlds can be created in this small space. And yet, as expansive as they are, they feed into that common purpose of hammering home the losses, desperations, brutal necessities and impossible resiliences of women in war.