Sunday, September 24

The Pride of Pripyat: Tales from the Chernobyl Disaster – International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Some events are so burned into the general subconscious they can be immediately recollected with just one word. Chernobyl, for example. But how much do we really know about the life of the nearby town – Pripyat – beyond a vague image of an abandoned ferris wheel?

American classical music ensemble the Perspective Collective set out to answer just that question in their operetta.

Across a handful of vignettes, ‘The Pride of Pripyat’ explores the personal impact of the disaster on the lives of some of those living in the shadow of the doomed power plant.

Beginning and ending with the perspective of the city’s chief architect, the show also explores the experience of a local school teacher with a husband at Chernobyl and a pair of nurses unsure how to approach a patient with radiation sickness.

Unsurprisingly, the music is full of threat and disaster. Discordant piano notes played live by Patrick Fink, 80s computer game sounds and an electric organ which conjures up images of a fun fair gone very wrong.

The lyrics are equally dispiriting. Before the nuclear disaster is even hinted at there are warbled mentions of gulags, diphtheria and opium dens.

Some much-required lightness comes from two Russian ‘babushkas’ who refuse to be moved along by the young soldier tasked with evacuating the city.

Sunny Knable’s composition and Jim Knable’s libretto are undoubtedly classical in style but there is more than a nod to Sondheim here. A tribute which is just as clear in the performances.

Rachael Basescu, Grant Mech and Erin Brittain all have beautiful voices. Their haunting deliveries making clear these characters’ thoughts and feelings were very human, very normal only to become totally defined by disaster. Forever more.

Simply and neatly staged, the performers wear black with flashes of red in neck ties and berets to denote changes in character. A vodka glass, a ruler and some rubber gloves are broadly the only props that are needed.

That being said, the melodramatic style and literal lyrics will not be for everyone. Each scene feels relatively isolated, rather than part of a cohesive whole.

Overall, ‘The Pride of Pripyat’ leaves the audience with more of a sense of the people behind the event than when they came in. It also, surely, leaves them wanting to know more. In which case: job well done.

Playing until 2nd July 2023. Tickets and more information about the Greater Manchester Fringe can be found here:

Reviewer: Peter Ruddick

Reviewed: 1st July 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.