The Litvinenko Project (A Work in Progress): “Truth is stranger than fiction…”

…but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t” (Mark Twain)

And what an aptly chosen quote by the director (Ollie Smith) to introduce what I can only describe as a truly awesome performance.  Even before the performance of The Litvinenko Project officially began, from as early as when I descended into Lee Rosy’s basement, I was asked to address what I knew and didn’t know of Alexander Litvinenko.  The performers were quick to establish that they only knew three facts:

1. He was a man.

2. He was a man who died.

3. He was a man who died from radiation poisoning.

They were also quick to establish that this was a performance, not an inquiry, investigation, biography or any other form of ‘factual’ representation.  So with a Brechtian/ Rushdie-esque flourish Lee Rosy’s tea room was swept into an aromatic blend of possibility, actuality, fact, fiction, documentary, theatricality and tea.2mag

Innovative and ingenious style.

While the kettle’s boiling, let me pause to say a word about 2Magpies. Tom Barnes and Matt Wilks, two recent UoN graduates, launched 2Magpies as a theatre company designed to be ‘devised’, site-responsive and tourable.  Their performances are collaborative; this is not a company where roles are clearly defined, but where a wealth of performing, writing, directing and designing talent, including everyone involved in the production (even the audience) combine to create.

Tom and Matt specify that their performances are site-responsive not site-specific.  So, for example, The Litvinenko Project can be performed in any tea room, not specifically Lee Rosy’s.  Besides the advantage of this allowing the show to be tourable, Tom says, it allows them to harness the “atmosphere and feel” of a space, without being “confined to one specific place”.

Litvinenko the news story Vs. Litvinenko the person

These ideas are clearly evident in The Litvinenko Project a piece that is not a play but perhaps best described loosely as live performance.  What I saw on Sunday night, the day after the seven year anniversary of Litvinenko’s death, was a private performance of a work in progress.  The Litvinenko Project, aiming to go public this time next year, is a performance aimed at “wannabe activists”, your stereotypical independent tea room regular hunched over their laptop, the latest issue of Vice magazine or a second-hand copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

2mag2An idea that spawned in a Masters degree in International Security and Terrorism combined with a passion for theatre, has brewed into a show aimed to “remind people that [Litvinenko] is still an open case, regardless of how unreal and implausible it all may seem, those close to Litvinenko are still seeking justice seven years on” (Smith).  This is achieved through a performance exploring several of the theories surrounding Litvinenko’s death.  Sensitivity to the case is achieved through a heightened awareness of the artificiality of the performance and awareness of the lack of facts.

I cannot wait for the final version.

The show has no actors; instead there are performers, the audience included, that collaboratively speculate with what is known and unknown.  Upstairs is the clatter and chink of tea cups, the hiss of the espresso machine, the throng of people. The intimate is combined with the alien, natural with the surreal in a careful interplay between Litvinenko the news story and Litvinenko the person.  The tea shop setting captures the ordinariness of the life of a man who loved green tea and juxtaposes it with the madness of possibility that for most only exists as speculative gossip over a cup of coffee.

For my part, I felt considerably privileged to view a private performance of something that holds so much promise.  I was riveted throughout and absolutely loved their innovative and ingenious style.  I cannot wait and would encourage everyone to see the finished version… but while that cup’s brewing, please remember that this performance is “not trying to solve anything” (Smith).  It is not even asking us to leave our seats.  It is merely asking us to momentarily stop chatting about Zizek and continue gossiping about Alexander Litvinenko.

 Libby Dunstan

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Photographs given by 2magpies

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