Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been framed and is now forced to share a cell with a prostitute and possible murderer, Lina. This precise and informative piece not only brings to our attention a terrible political situation, but - by exploring it through the main characters’ relationship - really helps us feel the all-too-frequently distant rumble of injustice.
For those who don’t follow Ukrainian politics, Tymoshenko is a real-life politician and major player in the 2004 Orange Revolution, now held captive under what the EU considers politically-motivated charges. More than a politician, she represents hope for a downtrodden nation, the very spirit of a land in peril from all sides, a folk hero in modest white dresses and iconic blonde plaits.
The Yulia of this play embraces her mythical qualities but also displays a very human side, engaging us in a truly intimate manner. She is rational yet mumsy, strong but fallible - she is a person after all. Ines Wurth, who plays her as well as producing the show, finds the truth behind the headlines and clearly believes passionately in her character’s cause. When Yulia is in danger of becoming high-flown in her rhetoric, her cellmate Lina is there to bring her back down with earthy ignorance and wry humour. Played on alternate days by different actors, I saw Katerina Arbanas, whose physicality captured her character’s life experiences perfectly. Damaged yet somehow endearing, Arbanas was the perfect foil to Wurth’s upright and saintly Yulia. High praise for all concerned comes from Vaclav Havel’s endorsement of the project, which also holds the blessing of the Tymoshenko family.
The kitchy faux-Soviet advertising does nothing to represent the show, even distastefully placing Tymoshenko in a pose usually reserved for the greatest dictators of the USSR. This piece is not about the Cult of Personality - quite the reverse. By deconstructing the icon that is Yulia Tymoshenko, by showing her real suffering, politics become tangible and moving. This is its principal success - as a call to arms from the heart as well as the head.