Prepare for a revolution with Counting Sheep at the Vault Festival 2019
Do you revolve or evolve?
BY ROBIN BATES
Entering the Vaults beneath Waterloo Station, we are transported to Kiev. Sat either side of a long table, with the cheap seats on benches either side, and the cheapest seats (there are no seats) at the end of the room, the stage is set for a revolution.
Counting Sheep takes us back to 2014 when a group of protestors stood up to the corrupt pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, and the lives of Mark – a Canadian with Ukrainian heritage taking his first trip to Ukraine, and Marichka, trying to make it as pianist and on her way to the most important audition of her life.
We’re introduced to Mark as footage from the time plays, projected onto roughly hewn sacking hanging from the walls, and onto the actors. Mixed with live footage from the actors’ phones, it makes for an interesting, if at times difficult to understand, way of storytelling.
Varenyky is not coeliac friendly.
Borscht is served and dancing begins, the actors plucking audience members from the benches, while actors dance on the tables in front of us. At this point I felt a little like I was missing out – we were supposed to be in the expensive seats (not that we’d paid for the preview), and here we were missing out on dancing!
Tales of grandma’s dinners, of varenyky, of gluten intolerance and a relatively quiet life intertwine with Marichka seeking to become a pianist when all of a sudden…
Prepare for a revolution.
The tables are cleared, noise and smoke, hard hats, flags, placards or handed out as news from the time plays on the walls. Ukraine wants to be free of its corrupt leader, free of Russia, and the people only see hope in joining the EU. It’s time for a protest.
This is an impactful moment – what would you do in this scenario? - and sadly is watered down from its Edinburgh run. There are no rubber bricks to throw, the barricades are built from the tables and benches and we play a part, passing tyres and planks along, playing the role of an extra in this movie.
A wedding, dancing, an impressive feat of strength as stairs are held in the air for someone to climb. Barricades go up, footage of them burning is shown, and the inevitable death occurs.
Would Mark and Marichka meet again or would the days of fighting claim them and their love?
Counting Sheep has moments of real power and emotion, shuffling you from onlooker to part of the action and back out again. It has some odd pacing issues and it’s been stripped back from the award-winning Edinburgh run, which does take a little of the bite out of it.
It still packs a hell of a lot of raw emotion, but the impact is lessened.
This is still a superb show, with hauntingly beautiful singing - and we might not have understood the words, but the meaning came through loud and clear. The love strings and drums added oomph where it was needed, and the cast, largely from UKraine and Belarus, are honest and believable. The same can't be said of the lead's Canadian accent, but you'll soon be swept up in the moment and move on from it.
COUNTING SHEEP CONCLUSION
If you’re willing to give yourself over to this eyewitness retelling of the harrowing events of 2014, you’ll find an excellent piece of semi-immersive theatre and you just might learn something too.
Be prepared to be physically and emotionally uncomfortable as Counting Sheep physically demands that you follow its story.
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