Molodyi Teatr London, a Ukrainian-British theatre group which has previously produced successful shows like Bloody Europeans and Penetrating Europe or Migrants Have Talent, performed the premiere of its latest play All That Remainsin Camden People’s Theatre on 30th of June. All That Remains, written by Molodyi Teatr member Olesya Khromeychuk, somewhat departs from the cabaret-like style of the shows created by the group so far. Based on real life experiences, the play tells a story of the trauma and memory set in contemporary wartime Ukraine. It’s a raw depiction of an attempt to cope with the loss of a family member in the conflict and leads to unavoidable questions about the absurdity of war in a wider sense.
In 2018, when the world watched Russia host the FIFA World Cup and President Putin supposedly proposed a new ballot of the status of the east Ukrainian residents to president Trump during a summit in Helsinki, the need to remember the unresolved war in Ukraine and its horrific real life consequences is more important than ever. The significance of the topic is unquestionable, though the political aspect of any show carries a risk of creating an activist performance rather than a fully fledged play. Whenever I get a chance to see something that at first glance’s highly politicised, my hope’s that it won’t only resonate among those who already are involved in the issue in question. Molodyi Teatr, however, delivers an emotional but well-written story that’s poignant and interesting, not only in terms of the military context that shaped it.
Strongly politicised plays can be seen as preachy, one-sided and overly didactic. All That Remains prevents these potential risks in its own subversive way and consciously addresses the relationship between a national trauma and its portrayal in the artistic world. The character of the young Ukrainian writer, who uses the military conflict for his own artistic aims and denies the main protagonist the magnitude of her tragedy, is a clear commentary on the hypocrisy within the nation’s intellectual elite. There are many similarly ironic moments during the play, where troublesome aspects of the interior politics of a country at war are recognised. Fighters confront pacifists, traumatised people are met with a lack of understanding and triviality, and family members of soldiers need to finance the army’s suppliers (through online shopping). War does not simply divide people into bad and good. The play portrays it as immensely complex force which inhibits any sense of justice.
The elements of black humour enhance the universal character of the play. The young soldier, bored and lonely during sleepless nights at the frontline, starts recording something of a dark video blog – he sings, swears and complains about winter weather into his phone. It’s quite an uncanny and yet powerful depiction of how isolating the experience of war is. On the other hand, the soldier’s coping mechanisms don’t differ much from what people who aren’t affected by the combat do in their free time.
The show portrays less obvious aspects of modern-day military conflict, including the usage of social media, technology and the consumerism. The focus on these secondary aspects of warfare amplifies the extremely cruel and traumatic experience of grief and loss without slipping into unnecessary pathos or pretentiousness. At first glance, it may seem like there are too many people on stage for a play which wants to create a sense of intimacy between the story teller and the audience. The potential congestion’s balanced by a minimalist (but not insufficient!) stage and costume design. The closeness between the actors and the viewers is induced by modest scenography which consists mostly of a smartphone, elements of documentary theatre with real life drawings, and a guitar, playing enchanting traditional Ukrainian songs. The self-reflective quality of the writing together with the emotional performance’s enjoyable and refreshing. Undoubtedly, All That Remains offers a rare chance of grasping the genuine Ukrainian perspective rather than the version that’s being broadcasted (or not) by the media. The play will be performed during this year’s edition of Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 21 till 25 August.