The subject is unpalatable and Belarus Free Theatre, a fearless yet imaginative troupe, have literally taken this to its logical and horrific conclusion on stage. We are, as our charismatic compere tells us, treated to a cook’s tour of the 95 countries on the globe where capital punishment, including in the Group's native Belarus, is still rife. Electrocution, hanging, stoning and gassing are the order of the evening.
The inappropriateness of juxtaposing eating with execution brings across the nauseating reality of legal murder. We see executioners talk candidly and insouciantly over strawberries and cream about their victims executed by gun fire. A man talks about a French delicacy – a bird stuffed to four times its size before marinating its dead organs in cognac– then proceeds to enact eating it. Resembling a monstrous white elephant (or a man awaiting the noose) he eats it under cover of a pillow case, the microphone blaring out disgusting, vaguely sexual noises of gratification.
If all this sounds odd and shocking, that is part of the point but not the whole experience. There is no self indulgent thespish-ness here. The incongruity, unexpectedness and downright relentlessness of some of the scenes just transfer the shock of the reality of state sanctioned death. When a mock comedienne performs various executions, it is like a bad joke. But her screams (perfectly, agonisingly pitched because this actress can also sing opera) in her 'electric chair impression' become a sort of torture that is emotionally and then physically, impossible to listen to. We cover our ears with hands.
Political and social justice theatre such as this usually has a hard task, at least in London. We’re up to our eyes in terrible crimes reported in the papers, our daily commuting diet – it’s not as if we have spare energy to appreciate or understand any more misery. But actually this is different. Intense, surprising, desperately shocking, it shows that theatre still has a place in society to commentate, disturb and critique. Compelling, horrific and, in its delicate balance of the sweet and distastefully sour, quite wonderful.