On the sparse, industrial-like stage at Tristan Bates Theatre, neatly doubling up as UK police question unit and Russian torture chamber, are two parallel scenarios, subtly linked. Story one has a young, bashful Russian man arrested for faking a Polish ID to gain UK entry, while story two has apparently the same man getting beaten and cruelly tortured by his bullying Russian guard. But how the strands work out, like the global themes the play tackles, point to bigger issues at stake than we might expect.
This is a timely mini-drama, staged just days after protests against Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws threatened to cloud Russia’s big moment as Olympic host, and just half a year since Moscow passed a 100 year ban on gay Pride marches. Creator Michael Yale actually devised In the Thrice Ninth Kingdom before these events, in 2013, after years of running Diversity projects in countries with intolerant attitudes to LGBT communities. The timing is fortuitous and has our attention already.
Overall it delivers, wrapping up a gay rights global problem into just one hour and never sensationalising, but presenting, the shocking facts. For example, torturer Vikenti's (Andy Gillies) cruel hoax with the prostitute who turns out to be a thug hired to beat his prisoner up, is documented on harrowing, real video evidence you can see here from Human Rights Watch Russia. The disappointment is that energy from the cast failed to meet the ambition of the material, with those magic ‘in the moment’ scenes all too few and far between. Andrew Young is however excellent as The Man, playing his bemused and vulnerable asylum seeker with effective understatement. But there is a general stiffness in the air otherwise, leaving the audience aware of the hum of the electric lights above, as miserable replacement for lost energy and electricity generated on stage.
Still, an admirably well written and structured play that presents the problems facing LGBT people all over the world accurately and unflinchingly.
In the Thrice Ninth Kingdom is at Tristan Bates theatre until 15 February. Tickets £16 / £14. Drinks can be bought at the bar shared by The Actors Centre. Q&A with LGBT rights activist and director after performance on Thursday 13 Feb.
Londonist saw this production on a complimentary press ticket.