Belarus Free Theatre: merry christmas, Ms Meadows

Belarus Free Theatre - merry christmas Ms MeadowsMerry christmas, Ms Meadows is like a gift. Something beautifully wrapped and full of surprises – we have no idea what it is until we open it, at which point we are filled with surprise, joy, and deep amazement.

The play, built through real stories collected around the world, confronts us with absurd situations of extreme violence, physical and psychological; situations where prejudice is just the varnish that is used purposely to conceal the depth of these issues.

The inspiration for the piece was the story of Lucy Meadows, a Lancashire schoolteacher undergoing gender reassignment. She finished the Christmas term as Mr Upton and returned in the New Year as Ms Meadows, with the full support of the school. Sensationalist reports of the story were run in the tabloids, and a few months later, Lucy Meadows was dead.

The issues that drive this work – identity, gender and sexuality, often avoided or ridiculed – are treated flawlessly, without moralising judgements. The maturity with which the piece is built tackles this taboo subject directly with no room for subjectivity, working on concrete facts and granting the viewer the power to reflect and judge.

Through a well-linked sequence of scenes that are not intended to tell a linear story, this drama confronts us with moments in the lives of ordinary people who, because they are a little different to what their society would expect of them, are often exposed to situations unbearably embarrassing, hurtful – and in some cases, leading them, like Lucy Meadows, to take their own lives in despair.

The physical engagement of actors, their pulsating performances, and even a kind of heightened overacting, contribute to building a fast-paced and dynamic show which reaches out to the viewer almost aggressively. These dramaturgical choices contribute to a certain sense of audience discomfort, which seems absolutely legitimate – after all, one cannot passively watch a play like this.

Merry christmas, Ms Meadows is also a clear denunciation of the violence that so many people are subjected to. It is an extremely courageous work; an extremely beautiful show for an extremely violent world.