in|Secure – Golden Goose Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Valery Reva

Director: Rachael Gavin Stott

Valery Reva was born in Ukraine but now lives in London, having come to Britain to study as an actor before Russia’s invasion in February 2022. He family, and her dog, are still at home, and the tensions of living a life at the same time as her home country is invaded form the crux of Reva’s work.

With a map of Ukraine crudely marked out on the theatre floor in white tape, Reva gives a sense of the country’s geography, and talks about how the majority of the fighting remains at one end of the country, while over near the Polish border, residents are unlikely to have ever heard a missile.

Reva initially keeps things light with just a hint of seriousness. That starts by opening the show with a trivia quiz in which the answers, although provided by the audience, are directly tied to the conflict: “Gun”, “Death”, “Displacement” and so on. Elsewhere, Reva uses magic tricks and balances pint glasses on her head to maintain an air of joviality.

If such behaviour seems at odds with a talk of a country at war, it is – and that’s the thrust of Reva’s point. Much of her routine is taken up with how hard it is to engage in everyday activities – going to the coffee shop or meeting guys on dates – when one’s home country is under attack.

As she shares some of the Facebook posts from Ukrainians, those about innocuous topics attract comments telling the poster they should be more engaged. But when a poster does talk about the conflict, they are berated either for being too engaged, not engaged enough, or rooting for the wrong side.

A post that posits that “a good Russian is a dead Russian” leads into Reva delivering a pastiche of Kander and Ebb’s Maybe This Time, speculating on Putin’s demise. It’s not a bad performance of the song, but by this stage, the more affecting elements come from character stories.

Reva talks about her own experiences with an app that sends alerts whenever there are missile strikes and the agony when those missiles land near her family. Other stories include what it is like to be an LGBTQ+ soldier – more accepted than before because of the need for recruits, but in an army where the homophobic slurs are still present, now directed at Russia’s opposing troops.

Reva’s other stories present other sides to civilian life. Her tale could perhaps do without a staged alert from the missile app and a fourth-wall-breaking worried phone call to her mother, which feels neither genuine nor fictional enough to work either way.

But the overriding message of Reva’s work is undeniable: as the fighting continues from Kharkiv to Kyiv, Reva’s overriding feelings are those of survivors’ guilt. The guilt of not being there, of not experiencing the horror first-hand, of not being traumatised enough.

For a show that starts with humour, the end comes after a healthy dose of sobering reality. As the war in Ukraine continues, those of us not involved are ever more likely to consider ourselves fatigued with news of the conflict. Shows like in|Secure are unlikely to fully reverse that, but Reva’s performance ably reminds us of the complexities and personal stories of war.

Reviewed on 3 June 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

War stories

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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