Will musical satire about eastern Europeans sway your vote on Brexit?
PUBLISHED: 08:00 01 April 2016
It’s the issue that’s tearing apart the Conservative party and one that will dominate the news agenda until the referendum on June 23: Brexit, and the EU.
Immigration is firmly at the heart of the debate over Europe, which makes the timing of an upcoming musical satire, Bloody East Europeans, particularly topical.
Stereotypes will be skewered and audiences taught how to pronounce eastern European names at Theatro Technis in Mornington Crescent as Highgate-based Ukranian theatre company Molodyi Teatr tells the story of a young woman called Svitlana, who comes to the UK from Ukraine on a tourist visa, but gets in trouble with the UK Border Agency after outstaying her welcome. For Uilleam Blacker and Olesya Khromeychuk, the married writers of Bloody East Europeans, there could not be a better moment to re-stage this production after a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.
“We are pro the UK being in the EU,” says Blacker, a Scottish UCL lecturer in Russian and eastern European culture who lives in Muswell Hill Road with Khromeychuk. “For Ukranians, they are not in the EU so the freedom of movement wasn’t open to them anyway. On the other hand, it’s even more important for them, as a couple of years ago, most Europeans wanted to be in the EU, and for them the EU is about a better life. British people want to chuck all that away, so it’s frustrating for them.” Khromeychuk adds: “We won’t have our say except on the stage.”
We follow Svitlana as she descends into the crime-ridden world of illegal immigration, mixing with gangsters and evading the authorities.
It’s a dark premise for a musical comedy filled with ‘70s disco hits, Soviet anthems, and Ukranian folk ballads.
Blacker explains: “We didn’t want to make it a really political piece, we wanted to show the funny side to these experiences as well.
“The stories people tell us about adapting to life in the UK are quite funny. There’s a dark side and a light side to it, and we wanted to combine them.”
Blacker is one of the few members of the company who is not Ukranian and Molodyi Teatr have so far mostly performed in Ukranian, adapting both well-known and forgotten works of Ukranian literature, such as Tara Shevchenko and poet Iurii Andrukhovych. But Blacker and Khromeychuk were soon keen to write something original. Inspiration was close at hand as the couple drew on Khromeychuk’s experiences of living in the UK as an eastern European.
“Eastern Europeans are often lumped into one group,” says Khromeychuk.
“We want people to talk about that, and to show how similar our lives are and that everybody faces the same issues: finding a job, having a family. For eastern Europeans, on top of that is worrying about documentation and the Home Office taking that away at any time.”
As you might expect, their audiences tend to be those who are already sympathetic to immigration and support the EU. “We had a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, and we had people come up to us and say: ‘I came here because my cleaner is eastern European, and I wanted to find out more about what their culture is like,’” says Khromeychuk.
“It’s that eastern European stereotype again!”
Blacker adds: “We are trying to play down these stereotypes but also exaggerate them to say that people who come from eastern Europe are not just cleaners, they have life stories.”
For those undecided about how they will vote on June 23, will watching this show help make up their minds?
Blacker says, probably not, but at the very least they will learn how to pronounce an eastern European name, and perhaps a little more about our continental cousins.
Bloody East Europeans is on April 2 at Theatro Technis in Crowndale Road. Tickets £8. Reserve by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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