Balaklava Blues

Mark and Marichka Marczyk
Selfconscious Productions in assocation with Wild Yak
Vault (Forge) Launcelot Street
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Balaklava Blues sounds anything but bluesy with its uplifting techno rhythms and the heavy beating of a drum by Mark Marczyk. It is more like a rousing call to arms and, in its mix of East European folk music, very much in tune with the Ukrainian protests of 2014, the experience of which inspired Mark and Marichka Marczyk to write the music.

The show is a companion piece to Counting Sheep which in 2016 took audiences into the Ukrainian struggle between protesters and police with everyone invited to wave placards, build barricades and join in a celebratory dance with strangers. The politics were always hazy but the Vault 2019 version felt more like a rave with police no longer present and the story wrapped around the romance of Mark and Marichka.

Still, you could enjoy the music, even if you left with little idea of the politics and this pattern is repeated with Balaklava Blues, which emphasises the music played in front of film projections across the huge Vault wall of footage from the Ukranian war. But the politics are again hazy.

That footage is mainly militaristic. Mostly we see soldiers with guns held at the ready as they check out war-ravaged buildings, soldiers training to fight, tanks rolling across bleak bombed landscape and a wrecked plane that is probably the Malaysian flight shot down by separatists killing 298 people.

Mark, a Canadian, speaks to us in English and the song titles flashed onto the walls are in English but the lyrics are not in English, though with titles like “Night Vision”, “Beat-Up” and “Broken”, we might suspect they matched the film we see.

Audience members are at times encouraged to become part of the music and in “Fire”, with its marching soldiers' chants, the call and response of something from Mark gets most singing “Fire Fire Fire”.

Occasionally, the general upbeat fighting spirit of songs shifts to something slower and sadder. There is a haunting quality to "Don't Leave Me" which they sing accompanied by footage from a film about a women’s resistance group against an earlier Russian annexation of Crimea.

There is no question the music is exciting and no doubt raises the spirits of soldiers fighting on one side in a terrible civil war. Mark and Marichka speak about having performed on the frontline.

However, not all audience members will feel entirely easy about an event so explicitly partisan in a civil war in which there are arguments for either side or even the possibility that both sides are simply the casualties of friction between the predatory EU and a paranoid Russia.

Keith Mckenna