Sunday, March 5, 2023




Dogs of Europe. Based on the novel by Alhierd Bacharevic. Dramaturg: Nicolai Khalezin. Co Dramaturg Mariya Bialkovic. Translation: Daniella Kaliada.

Directed by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada. Set and Costume Designer: Nicolai Khalezin Filmmaker, Animator & Video Designer: Roman Liubyi Lighting & Projection Designer: Richard Williamson Associate Lighting & Projection Designer: Beatrice Banyionite Original Music and Live  Performance by Mark & Marichka Marczyk of Balaklava Blues Choreographer: Maryia Sazonova Videographer: Mikalai Kuprych. Ensemble: Pavel Haradnitski Yuliya Shauchuk Raman Shytsko Maryia Sazonova  StanislavaShablinskaya Ilya Yasinski Kate Vostrikova Igor Shugaleev Kiryl Kalbasnikau Darya Andreyanava The Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival Centre.  Adelaide Festival. March 2 – 6 2023

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

The final image of Belarus Free Theatre’s chilling production of Dogs of Europe is Orwellian in its prophetic impact. Members of the company form a burning ring of fire. In their hands each holds a blazing book while flames devour the image on the large screen at the back of the stage. One by one each book  is shut extinguishing the flame and plunging the stage into darkness. The inevitable destruction of freedom of thought and speech is complete. Novelist Alhierd Bacharevic’s warning appears projected through the darkness, Where once the books burned; in time the people will burn,

London based Belarus Free Theatre, forced into political exile by the oppressive and Russian complicit Belarus regime, has adapted Bacharevic’s dystopian view of a world where war has divided the globe into the oppressive New Reich and the libertarian League of European nations. It is the prescient nature of Bacharevic’s grim view of a future event that is so frightful today. The allusion to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing battle between forced occupation and expansion and sovereign freedom is inescapable.

Director Nicolai Khalezin’s production presents an epic staging of the chapters of Bacharevic’s novel from the creation of the breakaway state to the battle for supremacy and the eventual search for the identity of a lost past. The first half follows the life of fifteen year old Michuan caught in the maelstrom of world events beyond his control and yet complicit in their consequence.  Khalezin and his company cry out with the voice of activisim against oppression and indoctrination. Their weapon is art and they wield it with the full force of theatre. The horror of a Grimm’s fairy tale collides with the absurdity of a Leunig cartoon. Legend, myth and symbolism fuse in Belarus Free Theatre Company’s unmistakable banner of rebellion. Director Khalezin’s imaginative use of expressive physical theatre and evocative imagery forges an irrepressible impression in the heart and mind of an audience transfixed by the cascading images on stage and screen. Sysiphus-like a naked figure rolls a huge ball of discarded books across the stage. Feathers fly from Michuan’s goose and banned and discarded books, those guardians of wisdom, knowledge and tradition lie littered and abandoned at the front of the stage.  

Throughout an image of a panda appears on the screen, constantly climbing a tree into the clouds beyond. It is a symbol of peace and new beginnings constantly out of reach. A hunchback fires a wooden gun but dies of a real wound in a pool of blood. Fantasy and reality fuse in the fast moving sequence of scenes that culminate in the actor playing the young Michuan emerging naked and running throughout the interval until he changes character and clothing to become a servant of the state and the detective in search of the man who died leaving his small book of poetry and a white feather. It is a search for enlightenment, for meaning and a world destroyed by the autocracy of evil and the indifference that is its complicit enabler.

We have seen it all before and now it is happening again. The Nazi book burnings of 1933 heralded an Armageddon that would lie dormant until the Kraken once mor awoke.  Bacharevic’s novel is today’s reality as Putin pursues his terrifying expansionist self-proclaimed dream of restoration of a Russian empire, a New Reich. Belarus Free Theatre’s artillery is the weaponry of theatre, the art of protest and the intellectual and emotional combatant of oppression. Dogs of Europe is a theatrical spectacle at its most powerful and empowering. It is a visceral force that transcends indifference. It is Epic Theatre in the Brechtian tradition compelling our judgement and inciting protest. On stage a brilliant ensemble of actors transport us through heart stopping, eye opening moments of suspense, terror, fantasy, black comedy and absurdity. On video, images tease our intellect while also providing locations and chapter titles . The pace is relentless and the surtitles flash swiftly before our eyes, inviting us to keep up with the action. We become active participants in this production’s cause. We become complicit in the production’s protest.

It was Cate Blanchett who suggested to Neil Armfield that he must invite this company and its production of Dogs of Europe to the Adelaide Festival. Audiences should remain ever grateful to Cate Blanchett and Neil Armfield and the Belarus Free Theatre for bringing this outstanding work to Adelaide. Every aspect of the production is brilliantly conceived, superbly staged and powerfully engaging. More than that, it demands debate and provokes action against tyranny and violence. It will forever remain an unforgettable triumph at this year’s Adelaide Festival.

The audience stand in ovation as the actors appear with a banner that states “Belarus Theatre stands with Ukraine.” I choke as I write these words. At one end an actor stands with the Belarus flag. At the other end an actor holds the Ukraine flag. And the applause continues as they cry out from the stage their support for Ukraine. It is a cry that echoes through the audience and stays with you as you leave the theatre. The fight for freedom goes on.

Photos by Adam Forte