Belarus Free Theatre Stages “King Stakh’s Wild Hunt” in London
“King Stakh’s Wild Hunt”, a classic 20th-century Belarusian novel by Uladzimir Karatkievich, was recently brought to life on the London stage by the Belarus Free Theatre. The directors, Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, who are exiles from Belarus, assembled a cast from Belarus and occupied Ukraine. The performance was delivered entirely in Belarusian, a bold retort to the ongoing attacks on Belarusian language and culture by Lukashenka’s regime.
Retelling the Haunting Story of “King Stakh’s Wild Hunt”
The novel, and subsequently the play, follows the life of real historical figure and folklorist Andrej Biełarecki. In the performance, Andrej is depicted as both a 96-year-old narrator and the young hero of his own narrative. The story takes a supernatural turn when Andrej falls in love with a cursed heiress, Nadzeija Janoŭsaskaya, and decides to protect her from the ghosts that are tormenting her family. This plunges him into the chilling horror of King Stakh and his ghostly Hunt.
Abstract Interpretation Faces Criticism
Although the performance showcased a wealth of talent, it was criticized for its abstract interpretation of a work that was unfamiliar to much of the London audience. The physical contortion, pyrotechnics, stilt-walking, and operatic score did not fully integrate into a cohesive performance. Nonetheless, there were striking moments and memorable scenes, including images of hanging, which were intended to echo the abuse of political prisoners in Belarus.
Despite being sold out and attended by many members of the Belarusian expat community, the performance faced criticism. Some audience members complained about beloved characters being left out or misinterpreted, and the plot was hard to follow for non-Belarusian speakers. The English subtitles were difficult to read against the stage effects, which unintentionally added a statement about the censorship of Belarusian.
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