Dangerous Acts Starring The Unstable Elements Of Belarus

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Dangerous Acts
"Depicting the intellectual fire and fierce determination essential to revolution, Dangerous Acts pits the pen against the sword in an old story made fresh by the fact it's so immediate to those involved."

Condoleezza Rice has called it an outpost of tyranny; the UN says it is habitual violator of international human-rights laws; yet the situation in Belarus rarely makes the news. Some may recall the mass protests at the end of 2010, when people spilled out into the streets following an election widely deemed to have been rigged, but they may not realise that those protests resulted in no political gains whatsoever. If you were to visit today, you would find a country little changed since its Soviet days.

In this country. which has neither the natural resources nor the strategic location to attract international intervention, people know that if anything is to change they will have to do it themselves. Having lived under President Alexander Lukashenko for 20 years, it's hard for many Belarussians to imagine anything different. It's easy to live in a dictatorship, they say. There's no need to think. But every society has its unstable elements, and the Unstable Elements of Belarus are fighting back through theatre.

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Madeleine Sackler's documentary, much of which was filmed secretly and then smuggled out of the country, follows the troupe over several difficult months as they seek to spark conversations routinely silenced by state media. Although they're not actually breaking any laws, the security police are omnipresent and it's not long before they start to find themselves in serious trouble. There is talk of disappearances, of beatings, rape and torture. People come and go from prison. It emerges that some of them may be forced to flee the country, leaving parents and children behind.

Clips of the performances the Unstable Elements put on show that they have real talent and put across the forcefulness of their feelings about the situation in a way simple interviews never could. We see them celebrated in New York and at the Edinburgh Fringe, but at home they can't even charge for their performances and they struggle to make ends meet. Nevertheless, the influence of their work is clear. It contributes to a changing climate, where dangerous ideas spread around the country in whispers. Obscure forms of protest emerge, rattling the authorities. Might they, one day, lead to real change?

Depicting the intellectual fire and fierce determination essential to revolution, Dangerous Acts pits the pen against the sword in an old story made fresh by the fact it's so immediate to those involved. Sometimes a subject as big as this can overwhelm a documentary, but Sackler does a good job of maintaining perspective and thereby maintaining impact. The result is a powerful piece of work that reminds us why art matters.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2014
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Behind the scenes with the Belarus Free Theatre, an acclaimed troupe of imaginative and subversive performers who, in a country choked by censorship and repression, defy Europe's last remaining dictatorship.
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