Writers: Mark and Marichka Marczyk
Directors: Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
If there is to be a revolution in Britain, then there’s no doubt that it will be captured on mobile phones, and so the early instructions given by the cast of Counting Sheep, about the 2014 uprising in Kiev, are for us to keep our phones switched on. However, in this genuinely immersive show you’ll be too busy building the barricades to photograph the revolution.
Officially just over 100 people died in the Ukrainian capital (though the unofficial numbers are higher) when the Government suddenly switched allegiance from the European Union to Russia. People gathered in the streets to demonstrate, and the clash between the protestors and riot police became known as the Revolution of Dignity.
Canadian journalist Mark Marczyk finds himself caught up in the protests and meets concert pianist Marichka on the barricades, as they try to evade the snipers who have taken residence in the tall buildings. Counting Sheep is their story, but rather than observe this battle against corrupt authority you become part of the action in this thrilling show co-created by Belarus Free Theatre, a company that exists underground in the former Russian state, or in exile in foreign countries like Britain.
While, at first, it may seem distasteful to make an entertainment about a tragic event in which people were killed, the creators and the cast of Counting Sheep make sure the experience is moving and, ultimately, humbling. You find that you really care about these quiet revolutionaries, even when you are cajoled by riot police, who try to break the barricade you’ve built.
As in a real protest, sometimes you have no idea what is going on, or how quickly things can escalate, but, as a contrast, there are moments of stillness and joy, too. You will be dancing just as much as you will be marching. There’s one point where nothing much happens at all, and as you take stock of events, this moment of temporary calm becomes the most poignant of all.
Counting Sheep was first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it comes to London as the VAULT Festival’s feature show, playing each night, and sometimes even twice a night. This London production is slightly different, however, in that more dialogue has been added, but it still retains the wonderful music of the Marczyks (who can be seen in their own show Balaklava Blues), and the striking choreography directed by Bridget Fiske.
The cast of nine must be the hardest working crew in London, and the energy the actors bring is astounding. Michael Edwards as our affable guide through the uprising is careful not to give us a history lesson, and we are plunged into the action immediately. You even get to try some Ukrainian food.
For those of you who baulk at interactive theatre, there are seats set aside for observers, but who changed the world by sitting down? This may be the closest some of us get to a riot. It makes us realise how lucky we are. You may not leave Counting Sheep bloody and bruised, but you will leave with hope blazing in your heart.
Runs until 17 March 2019 | Image: Oliver King