Review: Inside Pussy Riot, Saatchi Gallery

“Failure to do this will result in your fellow inmates being punished”

How far can immersive theatre push you? How far should immersive theatre push you? The disclaimer for Les Enfants Terribles’ Inside Pussy Riot warns us it is “not for the faint hearted, come prepared to demonstrate and stand up for what you believe in!”. But given that it is trying to give audiences a taste of what it is like to be on the wrong side of a totalitarian regime, from arrest to trial to incarceration with a bit of forced labour in there for good measure, there’s a limit to how far they can actually go.
Marking the 100th annversary of the Russian Revolution, Inside Pussy Riot revisits the experience of Nadya Tolokonnikova and her post punk, feminist art collective colleagues in Pussy Riot, who were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment for performing less than 40 seconds of an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral. From the opening moments when you’re invited to pick a balaclava (a range of colours available) to the climactic encouragement to raise your voice in protest, there’s quite the journey ahead.
One of the joys of immersive theatre, for me at least, is that sense of being encouraged to do or experience things I haven’t done before (my first You Me Bum Bum Train will forever be one of my all-time favourite memories for just that reason) and in its opening sequence, Inside Pussy Riot managed two searching moments of real, arresting power that cleverly upended what I thought was going to be happening. As authoritarian figures loom and bark orders, there’s a definite feel of falling down a twisted rabbit hole – so far so Kafka.
For this is a fictional land and though the allusions are clear, the surreal is allowed to bleed through on occasion to keep it from ever getting too dark, which is both a plus and a minus. It calms the nerves a little but also lets us off the hook, keeping us from getting closer to something authentic. Another tension that emerges is when the immersive comes up against the real testimony of Tolokonnikova, a point where we want to be able to listen but instead are distracted by enacting life in a penal colony. 
When we finally get a moment of solitary, quiet reflection to do just that, over headphones, the chilling power of despotic regimes and the impossible courage of those who resist them is allowed to sink in. It’s a striking moment and one whose influence might be usefully be fed back through some of the scenarios where humour is allowed to creep, just to keep the tone a shade or three darker, f only because immersive theatre gains its power from being able to make you have those conversations afterwards that go ‘I never thought that would happen’.
Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 24th December

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