Fr, 2.12.2022

Theater in Mykolayiv relieves the pain of war in and brushes away worries

Margus Martin
, ajakirjanik
Theater in Mykolayiv relieves the pain of war in and brushes away worries
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Actress Marõna Vasiljeva, the lead actor of the mono performance, managed to make the audience laugh as well as shed tears.
Actress Marõna Vasiljeva, the lead actor of the mono performance, managed to make the audience laugh as well as shed tears. Photo: Olga Sošenko
  • The residents stay at home in daytime and move to the basement for the night.
  • They enjoy culture despite limited opportunities.
  • The shows go on as long as the audience dares to gather in the basement hall.

Having arrived in Mykolayiv near the southern front, the Postimees reporters found out that even though the air raid warnings sound in the city every day with short breaks and the Russian troops randomly attack residential districts with rockets and drones, the townspeople try to overcome it and even go to the theater.

During the eight months of war, the residents of Mykolayiv have acquired a skill which is essential for long-time survival. When moving around the city, it is dangerous to stop at one place or to stay at a shop to have a longer chat with an acquaintance.

When the air alarm sounds (it has also happened that the enemy attack drones arrive even before the alarm siren), they immediately rush to the cover.

Compared to the capital Kyiv, where despite the warnings, people feel very confident, the situation in Mykolayiv is completely different, because only recently several people were killed in a rocket attack while waiting for a bus at the stop. On Saturday night, one of the rockets hit an apartment building, seriously injuring a small child, who later died in hospital.

The city has suffered more destruction than one could count.

The situation with clean drinking water is bad because the water system is still out of order and water is transported to different parts of the city by vehicles. People live where they can: in garages, shelters, basements. Apartment buildings cannot provide the necessary protection. Even if they spend the day at home, when the evening comes, they pick up their necessary items and move to a safer place. The most anxious time starts around six o'clock in the evening. This is inevitable.

There are not too many opportunities for staying optimistic and strengthening the spirit, but for example, the Mykolayiv Drama Theater continues to give performances despite the hard times. On Friday, the mono-performance “A simple Ukrainian Scythian woman“ with Maryna Vasilyeva in the lead role was premiered in the theater's cramped but cozy basement hall, which could accommodate about forty people and resembles a boiler room. The author of the piece, writer and poet Tamara Gorykha Zernya had also come from Kyiv.

The performance was about a woman from Donbass, who has directly encountered the events of Ukraine's independence, the occupation of Donbass and Crimea, and the current full-scale war.

They used minimal means to achieve what was actually a very good result. Besides the simple scenery, a projector which displayed interestingly edited video clips, a couple of small speakers, eight spotlights and the sound and light operator’s control console caught the eye. Basically, that was it.

However, more important than the technical devices was the actress' performance, which brought tears to the eyes of the audience and made them laugh out loud. For example, the moment when the purpose of the pins distributed to the audience at the entrance was revealed – the actress took out a voodoo doll with the face of Vladimir Putin, into which every spectator who watched the performance could stick their needle. And they stuck with pleasure.

The Ukrainian national anthem was part of the musical accompaniment consisting of various, mostly patriotic tunes. The audience immediately stood up and sang along in the darkened hall from the first bars of the anthem. The atmosphere in the room at that moment is difficult to put into words. It was touching.

The one-woman-performance lasted a little over an hour including the congratulation of the author and those involved in arranging the book for stage. A few moments later, after the flowers had been handed over, hugs and a few sentences were exchanged, the theater building without a single unbroken window was suddenly deserted.

Tamara Gorykha Zernya said that the book about the Maidan events and the war is her second work. “The Mykolayiv Drama Theater approached me a few months ago with the desire to make a play based on the book. “I did not interfere in their creative process, and I really liked what they had created in the end,” said the writer.

“I watched the show with great pleasure, but at the same time I was nervous. I must have shed tears at least three times during that time. Looking at the audience in the hall, I noticed that no one could hold back tears. This story is based on real events and the topic is relevant even today, when our country is at war with the aggressor. Our people are on the same page with the story and we stand for our country."

Natalia Isbash, deputy director of the Mykolayiv Drama Theater, was happy that they are able to continue their work despite everything and help keep people's thoughts away from the war for a couple of hours a few days a week. In addition to the opportunity to observe the work of a local theater troupe, the Kherson Theater troupe, which will soon be touring Ukraine, is expected in the city.

Isbash said that the piece will be performed only a few times initially. Audiences are scarce, most of the townspeople do not tend to go very far from home without a good reason. If they do, then only to buy food in the store.

But already today, a new one-actor-show is planned in the theater (the stage in the basement hall is about fifteen square meters, and more than two or three actors plus props cannot really fit there), which is meant for children of refugees from the liberated areas of Kherson region. “There are few children left in the city,” Isbash said.