The Krymov Company has come over from Russia and brought with them an extraordinary stage set and equipment, a troupe of actors and some amazing design and concepts. The show they have brought is actually two, well two parts but either could be performed as a standalone, and would still be strong. It is a mammoth effort of logistics and energy, both physical and creative to do both on one night.
For me, the first part was the strongest. It was called Opus No 7, Genealogy and was about the persecution and extermination of the eastern European Jews. Using very inventive set design and techniques, they incorporated cardboard and costumes to create a scene both poverty-stricken and powerful. The cardboard wall became a living thing as was painted, cut and projected onto. People and objects appeared through it and images of long-gone men, women and children talked out to us, translated onto the two overhead plasma screens (all of the speech was in Russian).
The opening scene included 6 musicians, eerie and very affecting, their black tie costumes tattered and ill-fitting, their voices and instruments battered but clear. Remnants of friends, neighbours and colleagues, tatters of children, their piles of small shoes underlining the tragedy. Stories told through music and photographs and very clever projection and use of film. The set was enormous, bounded by seating, enormous racks of light, the floor covered with a huge black cloth, and I mean huge. At one point, the audience is blasted with small scraps of paper from make-believe incinerators which then cover the floor. If you manage to get one of the few remaining tickets, make sure you get there early and sit in the front row where you can absorb all of the atmosphere - it might make you cry but you will be fascinated.
After a 30 minute interval, the theatre was completely reset and the seating and scenery changed. At one end, the most enormous red velvet curtain had appeared and audience this time on all sides. In the middle, a dust sheet and something that could be a tall piano made out of pallets and scrappy wood. We are introduced to a tiny character who turns out to be Shostakovitch - a composer about whom I know very little. He is clearly struggling against the Russian state. I don't want to tell you too much because there are a few surprises and I don't want to be a spoiler but suffice it to say that you should definitely go, preferably swot up on some Shostakovitch beforehand to help you understand the references, get there early and don't be shy of sitting at the front, it is worth it.
My overwhelming feeling as I sat there watching part one, was wherever would you go to see this kind of work, even in London - I am not sure who would programme it still less be able to stage it, and here it is on our doorstep in Norwich. Brilliant!
see www.nnfestival.org.uk for tickets