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Live Review: Gilmour, Pussy Riot support Staging A Revolution I’m with Banned in London

Venue: KOKO
Date: October 18, 2015

I’m with the Banned is the opening event of Staging A Revolution, a series of theatrical events taking place over two weeks to mark the 10th anniversary of Belarus Free Theatre. With a new logo designed by Ai Weiwei, the tone has been set for a series of thought-provoking events.

The line up is formidable in their artistic and political achievements. The majority are banned from performing in their homeland as a result of their actions, which makes I’m with the Banned a very special and poignant platform for freedom in performance.

The media and sponsor guests we treated to an early entry for a drinks reception and the presentation of On Freedom, a brand new anthology of 34 powerful polemics from supporters of Belarus Free Theatre, published by Oberon Books. This was also the occasion for us to attend the show full sound check, which included Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour rehearsing legendary tracks like Astronomy Domine or Wish You Were Here just for the few of us. The rock legend displayed an unsurprisingly amused, relaxed mood, both during the rehearsals and the actual performance.

David Gilmour during the sound check:

The night started with Stephanie Pan’ impressive drum solo, followed by Juliet Stevenson and Jeremy Irons reading extracts from Harold Pinter, who was the inaugural patron of Belarus Free Theatre when they arrived in London and gained political asylum. Punk rock band Brutto followed with a high energy number, which really got the audience going, especially during their very own rendition of London Calling, which for the occasion became Moscow Calling.

The Pet Shop Boys’s Neil Tennant performed alongside Belarus Free Theatre co-founder Nicolai Khalezin in a brilliant piece of spoken word, recounting the process of how to buy a pair of jeans without getting arrested. Khalezin spoke of how jeans were a symbol of freedom.  and this piece was masterfully delivered by both men with wit, sincerity and reverence.

Juliet Stevenson and Jeremy Irons. Photo by Marilyn Kingwill
Juliet Stevenson and Jeremy Irons. Photo by Marilyn Kingwill

After Viktoria Modesta’s contribution was in two parts – the first an inspiring short film showcasing her multi-faceted skills as a performance artist, the second, an impassioned speech in person, touching upon her difficult childhood in Latvia and how she has achieved her empowering eclectic career through having found the freedom to be able to express herself.

Viktoria Modesta. Photo by Marilyn Kingwill.
Viktoria Modesta. Photo by Marilyn Kingwill.

We are not beautiful, we are not ugly, we are angry!” was the mantra Nadya Tolokonnikova repeated throughout her speech, which referenced the time she spent in prison as a result of her performance with Pussy Riot in Moscow. Tolokonnikova spoke eloquently and reminded us of the real and damaging consequences speaking out about what makes you angry can sometimes have, which underpinned the reasoning behind I’m with the Banned.

One of the highlights of the concert was the extract of Belarus Free Theatre’s current show Time of Women, which has been written by BFT’s co-founder Natalia Kaliada and is based upon her own experience of arrest and imprisonment. Narrated by Kim Catrall, this extract was profoundly moving and the whole BFT cast can be commended for consistently pushing boundaries of expression, performance and language to reach as wide an audience as possible.

After the long, entertaining and moving succession of artists of any type on stage, it was finally time for the thousands of Pink Floyd fans who had been waiting all night for David Gilmour’s performance (accompanied by Ukrainian artist Boombox), which was by implication an experience in itself due to the relevance of the artist. Unfortunately Gilmour only played 5 songs in total, 2 by Pink Floyd (Astronomy Domine and Wish You Were Here) and 3 from his most recent album Rattle The Rock. Nevertheless, he delivered the performance you would expect from one of the greatest musicians in the history of music, rounding off this opening event in great style.

Gessica Puglielli

Visual/Web Designer, Digital Marketing Strategist born in Lecce (Italy), I currently live in London. Between 1998 and 2005 I collaborated with Michael Jackson’s staff and in 2000 I had a meeting with the man himself. I founded Rebel Rebel in 2013 and so far it has been an exciting journey. Some of my favourite artists include Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Skunk Anansie, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, Archive, Kraftwerk, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Anthony & The Johnsons, Gazpacho, The Maccabees, Led Zeppelin, Brian Eno, Beethoven, Bjork, Steve Wonder and many others. I feel a deep connection to animals and Mother Nature, which led me to choose a vegan lifestyle. I like playing electric guitar, photography, cinema, art, entertainment, travelling, playing tennis and browsing London.

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