In August 2020, playwright Andrei Kureichik witnessed the harrowing scenes of violence that unfolded following the protests against the rigged election results that enabled Alexander Lukashenko to be re-elected. Kureichik (who is a member of the Co-ordination Council of Belarus) decided to document events very much as things happened; in his play, that can be live streamed at home on Saturday 27th March at 7pm. This event is part of a series of monthly readings at The Cockpit giving voice to dissident writers past and present. To book tickets for ‘Insulted’ go to https://www.thecockpit.org.uk/show/dissident_voices. We talked to Kristin Milward who is co-directing and performing in the play, to learn more about it.
Kristin, what inspired you to get involved with the play ‘Insulted’? And can you tell us briefly about the play?
Dave Wybrow, the artistic director of the Cockpit, asked if I’d be interested in joining Peter Marinker in putting together a series of monthly readings by dissident writers, to be live streamed by the Cockpit. Peter and I are taking alternate months – last month Peter performed his one-man Godot and this month I’m presenting Insulted.
I wanted to explore the writings of unknown or forgotten Central and Eastern European writers, so put out feelers. A Russian friend responded by sending me Insulted. When I read it, it felt like holding a live grenade in my hands.
The play was written on the hoof, during the violent protests that burst out in Belarus after the rigged elections. Lukashenko, the President, flew in thugs from across the ex-Soviet Union, who had no misgivings about beating protesters to death and threatening women with mass rape. It’s this situation that Kureichik has put on stage. Three of the characters are real: Lukashenko, his young son and the woman who stands against him, Svetlana Tikhonovskaya who has taken her imprisoned husband’s place as Lukashenko’s official opponent. The other – fictional – characters are caught up in the violence that follows, the horror of which changes their lives forever.
You are co-directing this reading with Oliver Senton. This is very much a verbatim theatre piece, how have you managed to interpret the subject’s words and actions into the reading?
Lukashenko’s words identify him as desperate to hang onto power, they express his contempt for the people he governs – he condemns himself by every word he utters. Both his words and those of Svetlana Tikhonovskaya, are in large part verbatim and they contribute a shocking rawness to the action. The seven characters express shifting positions on the political scale, from the repression of Lukashenko to that of Svetlana who, as a bystander, gives voice to our horror at the unravelling of events.
You have a dual role of director, and you are also playing the part of the ‘Mentor’. Can you tell us more about her?
Mentor is the Principal of a high school. She’s ticking off the years to her pension. She unashamedly admits having organised several rigged elections – what she craves is the stability she insists Lukashenko provides. It’s only when her own daughter and nephew disappear into the nightmare of the prison system that she begins to realise her own responsibility for their loss.
Can you give us a brief summary of the other characters involved in the play?
The girl, Cheerful, represents all that is life-affirming and joyful. She is an election observer and meets the young man, Corpse, in a prison van, when he tries to protect her against the violence of Avian, a hired thug from Ukraine. Avian, it turns out, is directly connected to Cheerful, as Corpse is to Mentor. The final character in the play is Youth, Lukashenko’s 16-year-old son, whose passion for the internet is only exceeded by his fury when his father cuts it off. Through him we are able to watch Lukashenko’s political manoeuvring at alarmingly close quarters.
The playwright Andrei Kureichik wrote this play whilst the protesting continued. Does the horror of the circumstances come through in the play?
Has anything you have been involved in previously, prepared you for the challenge of such an emotive subject?
Yes. Years ago, at the Finborough, I performed in an early draft of Neil MacPherson’s play about the Armenian genocide. Everything that was spoken on stage was witness testimony recorded by the victims themselves. I’ve never forgotten the sense of responsibility we owed to those people. We became their living voices.
Last year the reading of ‘Insulted Belarus(sia)’ was performed at 120 events, at 78 venues, in 26 different countries and was translated into 20 different languages. Do you have any future plans to develop this play further?
It deserves to be seen on stage; in whatever way we can manage. This play concerns Belarus, but what happened in Belarus last August is being repeated in Hong Kong, Myanmar, Syria, Russia – wherever voices are upraised for freedom. In that sense, it is universal.
The reading is taking place at The Cockpit Theatre, is this a live event? And will it be available to watch online?
It’s a live event that streams at 7pm on March 27th. Unfortunately, there are no plans as yet for it to be available online.
Kristin Milward – Biography
Kristin Milward trained at RADA. She has worked at the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and toured all over the world, including a season in Broadway for six months. In the UK she has performed at The Finborough, The Bush and The Old Red Lion in London. Nominated for an Offie in 2019, she’s worked in TV, Radio and Film, most recently in ‘A Little Chaos’ directed by Alan Rickman.