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Voices from Chernobyl at the Jack Studio Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 8th May 2017 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

Karina Knapinska

 These people had already seen what for everyone else is still unknown. I felt like I was recording the future. (Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl)

I still remember the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in April, 1986. We were still in the middle of the cold war with Russia so very little information was shared. I lived in Munich at that time and we were warned by our government to avoid fresh milk for several weeks, venison and mushrooms - anything from the forest - for several years. And Bavaria is quite a distance from Ukraine. People in Ukraine were not warned. They continued eating fruit, vegetables, and dairy from their villages because the produce looked fine. After all radiation is invisible.

In the early to mid-1990s, Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich collected hundreds of stories from people living in villages near Chernobyl when the catastrophe happened - the wives of the firefighters who sacrificed themselves to save others, scientists, government officials, and ordinary people whose lives were changed forever. 

Director Germán D’Jesús adapted Keith Gessen's translation of Svetlana Alexievich's book for the stage and his 60-minute play, produced by Ténéré Arte, is currently running at the Jack Studio Theatre.

April 26, 1986. People in the towns near Chernobyl are going about their daily business when an explosion destroys a reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Station. The government quickly tries to cover up the catastrophe whilst firefighters and workers are dying of radiation poisoning because they are spending far more than the allotted time in the radioactive environment, working without any protection. More than 600,000 fire-fighters and emergency workers are called in from all over the Soviet Union to put out the fire. Tourists arrive to look at the spectacle and the locals continue eating their contaminated produce whilst government officials do nothing to discourage them. When severely deformed babies are born, some with missing organs, others with missing or additional limbs, the extent of the catastrophe starts to sink in.

Oleg Sidorchik

The play, featuring a dedicated cast of six actors, lends a voice to the victims of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Whilst the government was more concerned about protecting the state from the enemies of socialism than about the safety of its own people, many perished before they were finally evacuated from the contaminated areas, and the radioactive cloud moved on to bring contamination and death to other parts of eastern Europe, particularly Belarus, where Svetlana Alexievich was born.

The actors speak both English and Russian, which lends authenticity to the production. The cast all play a variety of roles but they still manage to create empathy for their characters. A newlywed young woman talks about how she could not even hold the hand of her dying husband because he was contaminated. A scientist describes the complete disorganization and disinformation after the explosion. And a worker talks about cleaning up the contaminated debris after the fire was put out, without a care for his own safety.

An unflinching and unsentimental account of one of the worst nuclear disasters.       

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 13th May 2017

Jack Studio Theatre

Running time: 60 minutes

In English and Russian (all Russian parts are accompanied by surtitles)

Photo credit Jack Studio Theatre.

Comments

1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 8 months ago
    Thanks, Carolin. A very personal review.
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