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Theatre review: A School For Fools

REVIEW

A School For Fools

★★★

EVERY Thursday at 6pm until July 9, the members of Belarus Free Theatre in Minsk will gather in their respective kitchens, bedrooms, front rooms and balconies to stream a live performance of A School For Fools, Sasha Sokolov’s 1976 novel about a boy with dual personality disorder.

Yep, the usual conventions of producing a play may be currently in turmoil, but that means little to this extraordinary underground company, who are banned in Belarus and who have been putting on theatre in near impossible conditions for years. Hence this beguiling, bewildering, ingenious show, performed live using Zoom, subtitles, smartphones and even the odd drone. It’s the first proper theatrical response to the new Covid normal we’ve seen.

That said, unless you are well acquainted with Sokolov’s shapeshifting novel, it’s likely you’ll find a lot here pretty hard to follow. Two actors play the protagonist, trapped within the hellish institutionalism of a Soviet school system, nursing an unrequited love for his teacher and through whose dissociated mind everything we see takes place.

It’s one hellava trip, through an internal landscape dominated by various authority figures (his mother, a psychiatrist, a draconian supervisor) and haunted by fantasies of self obliteration.

What’s striking, though, is the way Zoom becomes its own theatrical language under director Pavel Haradnitski, who exploits its atomising, multi-perspective format in ways that disconcertingly embody our protagonist’s splintering reality.

That each actor in this show is performing in a different building becomes its own playful theme — objects are passed from one frame to another; table cloths cleverly match up to suggest scenes are taking place in the same room.

The tension slacks in the final third and, without knowledge of the book to guide you, the theatrical disorientation offers diminishing returns. But this an arresting piece of work from an art-form fighting back.

■ Every Thursday until Jul 9 on belarusfreetheatre.com. Free but must be booked in advance.