If your notion of theatre is of actors speaking dialogue learned from a scipt... well, this was something else.
If you had heard that Opus No 7 would be performed in Russian and were put off, that was a shame.
Dmitry Krymov’s Moscow-based theatre company, or ‘laboratory’, deploys the universal language of spectacle to implant its ideas. It gave three performances in Newcastle on a lightning, British Council-sponsored tour.
We were privileged to see it at Northern Stage where two auditoriums had been merged to form a long, hangar-like space.
The capacity audience, 300-strong, sat along one side on wooden chairs. There was a sense of keen anticipation. It felt as if we were part of the show.
What unfolded was extraordinary, physical, messy and yet also beautifully subtle. It was a tale about the Jews, melancholy but full of chutzpah. It wasn’t without humour, either.
When words were sung or spoken, a translation appeared above but to read it was to risk missing what was happening below.
People worry about meaning. Here it was secondary to the means of its delivery, the excitement as buckets of black paint were hurled at the white wall opposite to be turned into cartoonish pictures of Jewish figures which then came to life.
Hands with knives cut their way through the wall which became a screen for projected photographs of Jewish figures – poignant, since their lives and deaths may have been too painful to think about. Except we were being invited to think.
At one point we were blinded by light and blasted in a blizzard of newspaper scraps.
As we trooped out for the interval, the cast began the clear-up. When we returned, the seating had been rearranged and soon a monster puppet in the form of a mighty matriarch was in our midst.
This second piece was about the composer Shostakovich and his awkward relationship with his Soviet masters. He fell in and out of favour, friends were shot and ultimately he joined the Communist Party.
It appeared to illustrate a mealy-mouthed speech with the composer speaking from head rather than heart.
It began with Shostakovich as child prodigy, played by a tiny actress appearing to risk life and limb on a roughly-hewn piano frame.
The puppet was great and sinister, there was a fantastic piano dodgems routine and the cast, throughout, performed with conviction and circus-like daring. Unforgettable!