Burning Doors

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Reviewed by Daniel Wilson

The Ukrainian film maker and activist Oleg Sentsov is in a prison in Siberia serving a 20-year sentence. He is one of 24 Ukrainian prisoners known as the Kremlin Hostages. These are political prisoners serving sentences for crimes such as ‘genocide’, ‘mass murder’, ‘terrorism’, and ‘espionage’.

He was arrested in his home town of Simferopol, Crimea, in May 2014. About a year ago, he sentenced in a trial that Amnesty International described as “redolent of Stalinist-era show trials”.

As the world grapples with fake news and those trumpeting their right to be racist, the memory of Senstsov is fading and with it the hope that international attention could exert the kind of pressure that could free him.

It was international attention that freed the members of Pussy Riot, a group of activists who protested Russia’s incursions into free speech by singing a song in a church. Western countries threatened to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics if the members of Pussy Riot were not freed.

One of the freed members, Maria Alyokhina, trying to draw attention to the plight of Senstov with the play Burning Doors. Alyokhin has joined the Belarus Free Theatre, the only theatre company in Europe to be banned by the state on political grounds, in a production that tells her own story of imprisonment and those of other creatives targeted by the Putin regime. These include Sentsov and Petr Pavlensky, the artist who sewed up his lips and nailing his scrotum to the stones of Red Square to protest Russia’s censorship laws.

With all the well-meaning motivation behind it, it is almost surprising that the play itself happens to be a masterpiece. It juggles light hearted moments and intense scenes of choreographed violence, to tell the story of what it is like to be interrogated, imprisoned, beaten, confined and yet stay true to ones convictions.

Burning Doors is playing in Melbourne until Dec 3 at the Arts Centre, and then continues its Australian tour.

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