ZVIZDAL (Chernobyl – so far so close) – Dublin Theatre Festival Review
Venue: Samuel Beckett Theatre – Dates: Sept 29 & 30, 7.30pm; Oct 1, 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Tickets: €20 – €25 – Duration: Approx. 75 mins. No interval.
Pétro and Nadia are an elderly couple who have an intense relationship. The bond between the two is made all the more complex by a decision they made some thirty years ago. They live in the vicinity of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in an area known as the zone. This is the region where all the inhabitants were urged to leave their homes for their own safety, after the explosion in 1986. They moved far enough away from the disaster zone that it was no longer a threat to their health. This couple simply decided to stay. A number of documentary film makers travelled inside the zone to meet the couple and see how their lives continue in their self inflicted isolation.
The most obvious thing is how normal they and the world around them appears to be. The land is thriving and the birds sing in the trees. There are no outward signs that the land is poisoned or that they are absorbing massive doses of radiation. While this may be the most immediate area of interest for the viewer, after a time your attention is drawn away from their predicament and onto something more mundane. They are an old couple who have spent their whole lives together and have forged a tremendous bond of love and affection. This slowly becomes the main focus of the piece.
There is another element to the production and that is three impressive models of the farm in which they live, with each model set in a different season. A camera on a mechanical arm hovers over these models and projects images onto the screen. These images are interspersed with real life shots of the couple, giving the audience a different view of their surroundings.
How this piece sits in a theatre festival is a question that will be asked. This production is primarily a documentary film and no live actor appears on stage. In fact, the only thing to move on stage is the mechanical arm and the images on screen. While the models are quite beautiful in themselves, what they add to the overall production is debatable. The question is largely rendered irrelevant by the quality of the story being told and the hold it keeps on its audience.
The simplicity of their lives is daunting. They live off the land with little outside intervention or even human contact. They lack the simplest modern convenience and cut the grass with a scythe. They have a radio which once worked but now only hisses. Nadia seems a live wire, constantly looking for the humour in any situation and enjoying life. Pétro, or ‘the old one’ as she calls him, walks the lanes tending to his tiny farm. They live with a sense of calm that is not evident in modern life and it feels like they are from another age. The production is shot over a number of years with the passage of time evident in the story. You worry what has changed in their lives with every new visit. This is a vivid portrayal of this couple that will last with the viewer long after you leave the theatre.