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Play to highlight gay rights on eve of Winter Olympics

PUBLISHED: 08:53 06 February 2014

hope theatre

hope theatre

Archant

As the eyes of the world turn to Russia for the winter Olympics opening ceremony tomorrow (Friday), the host country’s laws on homosexuality mean that the sporting contest will be as much about human rights as medals.

An Amnesty International protest outside London’s Russian Embassy last week, calling on President Vladimir Putin to end his legal assault on gay rights, was one of the events timed to coincide with the Sochi Games.

In response to concern about Russia’s Law on Propaganda of Non-Traditional Sexual Relations, banning dissemination of pro-gay expression to under-18s, Queen’s Park-based playwright Tess Berry-Hart pulled together a piece of verbatim theatre for two scratch performances at Islington’s King’s Head Theatre last September.

Murder

Now Sochi 2014 returns for a four-week run at the King’s Head’s sister venue The Hope, also in Upper Street.

With short notice and a young baby, Berry-Hart was unable to travel to Russia and had to rely on gathering testimony via telephone, Skype and email.

But the powerful stories she uncovered from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Russians included arrest, beatings, kidnap, torture, sacking and murder.

She has woven their monologues together with testimony from UK-based gay activists Peter Tatchell and Masha Gessen, and extracts from the Olympic Charter’s founding principles which include non-discrimination, equality, and inclusion.

Berry-Hart says initial contact with LGBT Russians was dogged by fear and suspicion.

“It was hard to find people willing to talk because they were worried about falling foul of the law and I was an unknown outsider.

‘Lonely’

“But once I contacted human rights and gay rights organisations in Russia and established a chain of trust, hearing their stories about how lonely and frightened and abused they felt – as well as surprising bits that were hopeful and funny – was the emotional crux for me.

“I hope that for audiences it will really bring it home that this is a piece of theatre about real lives.”

The play opens at the Olympic ceremony, with actors in sportswear waving national flags, and Berry-Hart, who feels strongly that concessions towards the gay community will evaporate as soon as the contest is over, plans to update the text as events at Sochi unfold.

“The power of theatre is its ability to respond quickly – far more quickly than a book or a film – and its immediacy; the way it can make audiences feel connected to the subjects so they feel they can do something about injustice.”

Berry-Hart, who trained on the Royal Court Theatre young writers’ programme and has penned novels for young adults and plays, learned this in 2012 when her verbatim drama Someone to Blame, ran at the King’s Head, just before the murder conviction against Sam Hallam was quashed.

“I saw how the play could tell the story of that miscarriage of justice and how it influenced what happened in the court of appeal.

“It taught me how powerful theatre can be as a vehicle for change.

“This is an invaluable opportunity to focus the eyes of the world on Russia’s attitude towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and suggest what the countries of the world can do about it.”

Sochi 2014 runs at the Hope Theatre until March 1 and all proceeds will go towards Russian human rights organisation SPECTRUM.

More details can be found at http://kingsheadtheatre.com/hope-theatre.html.

Meanwhile, at the Lexi Cinema in Kensal Rise, DocHouse screens Putin’s Olympic Dream on February 13 at 8.50pm.

Directed by Hans Pool this 80-minute documentary focuses on the preparations for the most expensive winter Olympics in history, from oligarchs to athletes, and from activist to entrepreneurs.

The transformation of an old fashioned holiday resort known as the Cannes of the Soviet Union into a modern Russian city are part of Putin’s bid to return his country to the world stage.

Tickets are £7 (£5 concessions) more details at Thelexicinema.co.uk.


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