Would you sacrifice everything for the sake of a liberal world?
Pussy Riot is a feminist protest punk rock band from Russia. The group gained global notoriety in 2012 when they stormed Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ The Saviour to stage a protest performance against Vladimir Putin: Three of the group, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yakaterina Samutsevich were arrested, charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and thrown into prison.
The group gained global notoriety in 2012 when they stormed Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ The Saviour
Now free, Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova has joined forces with razor sharp theatre group “Les Enfants Terribles” to transform London’s Saatchi Gallery into a dark and powerful theatrical experience based on her incarceration. Les Enfants Terribles are one of the most innovative and exciting theatre companies working today – their groundbreaking immersive work includes Olivier-nominated ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’, ‘Dinner at the Twits’ and ‘The Game’s Afoot’.
Run by Oliver Lansley and James Seager the company is dedicated to creating original, innovative and exciting theatre using props, puppetry and live music. We met Oliver and James and took a step into a fascinating – and sometimes scary – world of immersive theatre…Inside Pussy Riot.
Hi James and Ollie. Thanks for meeting us! We just saw your show, Terrible Infants at Wilton’s Music Hall. It’s full of puppetry and twisted fables. How different will Inside Pussy Riot be?
Ollie: Wilton’s is a crash course in Les Enfants Terribles I suppose. It’s pure “what we do” as a Theatre company – it’s about storytelling using different techniques to tell that story, so that will all still be present in the Pussy Riot show but obviously with a very different subject matter. Terrible Infants began ten years ago and was the first for everything – we knew we wanted to do a show using diverse elements like puppetry and live music and we genuinely just threw ourselves in at the deep end. And that’s the way that we’ve worked ever since. In terms of other shows, everything comes from the subject and the story, thinking “What is the best way to tell this story?”. That might be puppets, it might be an immersive piece, a straight play, audio or visual. It could literally be anything – so long as it tells the story. And with Pussy Riot, we’re choosing what we feel is genuinely the best way to tell the story.
So do you use elements of puppetry or will Inside Pussy Riot be an all-human performance?
It’s all about the humans, but there is an elevated theatricality and we’re at pains to point out that we’re NOT trying to create a prison simulator. It will still be very much a piece of theatre. We’re quite irreverent in the way we create work. Pussy riot are also arch provocateurs who do everything with a wink, tongue in cheek – they stick a pin in the pomposity of patriarchy and the establishment – and we’re trying to reflect that anarchic approach.
How did you come to be involved with Pussy Riot?
We were approached by the Russian producers, Bird & Carrot – and they were our direct link to Pussy Riot. They were asked to do a piece for Art Riot for The Saatchi Gallery and they’d seen our immersive show, Alice’s Adventures Underground. They started talking about the idea of a massive piece of theatre. For us it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to collaborate on something completely different to what we’d done before.
Who should come and see the show and who might you expect to see in the audience?
Anyone with any interest in Pussy Riot themselves or their politics should definitely come to the show, but even if you don’t have any political interest you should come because you’ll learn about what Pussy Riot do and how important that is to all our lives, particularly at the moment in a world of Trump, Brexit and Le Pen. I think it’s important to express our freedom of speech and that’s something we should hold very dearly. It’s a different audience than I would usually expect. There is something so important to be said in this show, and I hope it asks the audience to question their own beliefs and what they themselves would be prepared to stand up for.
After what’s happened with Harvey Weinstein, Inside Pussy Riot seems particularly relevant – how much is this a feminist piece and how much is it universally anti-establishment?
Well I think you can’t really talk about Pussy Riot without it being an issue of feminism, but whether we like to or not, we can’t really escape issues of patriarchy now, be that Putin or Trump or indeed Weinstein. Our world, our society, is run by lots of rich white men in positions of power – and we’re aware as privileged white males of the irony of saying that. Essentially the two things [feminism and patriarchy] are intrinsically linked.
We were also keen to make sure that this was female-led as well, with a female director and a female designer, but we also took a creative decision that the whole cast is female and I think that was hugely important.
Essentially we wanted the piece to feel as if Pussy Riot had taken over the asylum. We’re not creating a prison simulator experience – it’s very much Les Enfants Terribles’ take on what happened.
How did you both meet and Les Enfants Terribles begin?
We met about 17 years ago as actors in an open-air Shakespeare production. Ollie was going on to do a Berkoff Play at the Edinburgh Festival and asked me (James) to come on-board. We did a play in Edinburgh every year until 2006 – everything really began from there. Venues started to become interested in us…one of the big transition shows was the first incarnation of Terrible Infants ten years ago, which opened a lot of doors for us and took us all over the world.
And what are you working on next?
We like to choose things which excite us and also that lend themselves to a particular genre. The next big project is taking Alice’s Adventures Underground to China – so we’re off to Shanghai to oversee that.
How’s your Chinese?
I think we’re just going to have to trust they’re saying the right things!
And finally…is there any fear that the KGB may come knocking on your door after Inside Pussy Riot?
It’s not something we ever thought about at the start – but a month in once we started developing the piece we thought “Maybe this is something we should think about!” – especially as we are working with Nadya, who is very public about her opposition to Putin and other political figures. We believe it’s important to champion free speech, that’s something worth standing up for and ultimately, it’s a story worth telling.