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Lithuanian Festival: The One That Hurt the Most / Goodbye My Love

Gabriele Lababauskaite / Marius Macevicius
Arts Printing House
Southwark Playhouse
(2007)

Lithuanian Festival publicity graphic

"Get carried away with your imagination. Live up in your dream-trees and come down only to harvest your ideas" is one of the ten commandments of the Arts Printing House currently working in association with the Southwark Playhouse presenting the Lithuanian Festival.

Set up in 2002 in Lithuania's capital Vilnius, the Arts Printing House nurtures its young artists in a safe haven where they can experiment, discover and ultimately strive for change to create new and uncompromising work.

The festival sees the collaboration of not only theatre but also film, art, music and design which intends to make a connection with a British audience from whom Lithuanian artists have previously felt disconnected.

As a self confessed novice to Lithuanian theatre, I admit I was unsure as to what to expect from this trilogy of work (of which The One That Hurt The Most and Goodbye My Love were performed). Two very different plays dealing with both personal and economic progress in a post Soviet Lithuania bought to life the difficulties of shaking off Lithuania's communist legacy in an attempt to conform to European Union standards.

Exploring the lives of a group of gay friends, disconnected from a homophobic society, one could argue that The One That Hurt the Most was old hat. Haven't we seen the trials and tribulations of a marginalised, homosexual society presented time and time again as we witness the trauma of coming out to friends and family, the discrimination they endure and the effects of HIV on their community? The answer is yes, our cosmopolitan British audience are very accustomed to this topic; however to Lithuanians this is in fact very relevant and raw in a society where two thirds of the population claim they would rather have a drug dealer as a neighbour than a homosexual. Consequently The One That Hurt the Most felt anything but dated; in fact it felt very current and poignant.

Labanauskaite has created a vibrant group of characters bought to life by a talented cast. The performances were primarily truthful and real. Even characters who may have at first been considered to be stereotypes, such as Blue (Daniel Abelson), the heartbreaking queen who glided about the stage, had depth to him, revealing fears and insecurities. Or Schnittke (Steven Beard), the aging gay man in his pink nightgown and matching lipstick. His costume was almost incidental to Beard's melodramatic interpretation of a man who lives his life as if it were a performance, too scared to be himself.

As their lives are gradually turned upside down one couldn't help but realise the importance and courage of such a play that gives a voice to this group of people who are silenced by public discrimination.

Goodbye My Love, whilst on the surface a play about capitalism in a post Soviet Lithuania, was more a play about relationships and family ties, speaking to all, regardless of cultural upbringing.

Antanas is reunited with his mother Birute, as she visits Lithuania from her seemingly wonderful life in the UK where she lives with her Turkish lover. But we are soon questioning if life is as glamorous as Birute would have us believe.

Daniel Abelson, in a total departure from his role as Blue, is exquisite as the poor, long suffering son of Birute. However Macevicius's dry and quick witted writing is let down by Valerie Gogan's portrayal of Birute. The writing suggests this is a character who is as up and down as a yo-yo and her verging on manic personality has been the bane of her son's life. Whilst Gogan certainly presented an entirely intolerable woman her performance lacked any colour or variation. Constantly on the same level Gogan seemed to adopt the technique of if in doubt, just shout.

Ultimately this was a play speaking volumes about manipulation of one human over another and from the privileged position of an audience member I couldn't quite decide who I felt more sorry for?

The Southwark Playhouse with its industrial space and slightly damp walls is ideal for showcasing these new plays, the occasional sound of the trains only adding to the raw, vibrancy of this work. If this is a taste of what we can look forward to from these emerging Lithuanian writers then I certainly wait with eager anticipation of what is to come from a country whose voice is now being well and truly heard.

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan