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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Finborough Theatre Online   June 2022

The Finborough, one of London's smallest but most adventurous theatres, has commissioned a strand of Voices From Ukraine, opening with this eighty-minute monologue play by Neda Nezhdana, offered online for free.

Minimalist in writing and production, it is a yelp of pain and rage, with all the power and some of the limitations of a work conceived in passion.

The solo speaker is a middle-class Ukrainian woman, and her monologue is made up almost entirely of her half of a correspondence with a Russian friend.

At first the two try to chat naturally as if there were not bombs falling and men fighting street-by-street outside her pleasantly-furnished flat.

But quickly the other woman's inability or refusal to acknowledge what's going on angers the speaker, whose outrage expands to envelop those European countries who value their economic dependence on Russia above justice and humanity.

Finally she finds a specific and personal way to make her friend feel some of the pain and anger she does, achieving some sense of justice and balance restored.

(The title is a Ukrainian word meaning 'response,' creating a dark pun as it can be applied to both 'reply' and 'military retaliation.')

To call the piece minimalist is to exaggerate its theatricality. Until the end there is very little narrative or plot to the speaker's mounting screed of outrage. Actress Kate Vestrikova stands essentially motionless, speaking directly to the camera, while openly reading from a script she holds in her hands.

Though the camera barely moves as well, her speech is broken up into a string of separate shots, rarely more than a minute long, punctuated by blackouts or brief cutaways.

Except for the performer's voice and face, the power of the piece lies entirely in Nezhdana's words.

Without question, the passion of her outrage directed less at the military invasion than at the world's complacent refusal to acknowledge it as fully as she wants is communicated.

But uninterrupted and unmodulated passion can quickly overwhelm an audience, leaving us numbed rather than aroused, and an artist's raw emotions can interfere with her artistry.

Otvetka reaches the peak of its effectiveness by midpoint at the latest, and just more and more of the same dissipates its power.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Otvetka - Fincorough Theatre Online 2022