This week, all 25 members of Belarus Free Theatre were in London ready to start their rehearsal for King Lear at the Globe, back after its triumph at the Globe to Globe Festival last year. The company is split between those living precariously in exile in London, and the rest who continue to work illegally and underground under appalling, oppressive conditions back in Minsk and getting everyone together is fraught with difficulties and danger.
Seeing them all together at a fundraising event in central London, they looked like a group of young actors anywhere in the world. But in order to get here, 20 of them had to be smuggled out of the country, taking different routes across the multiple borders of the land-locked country to fly from Vilnius, Riga, Warsaw, Kiev or Moscow to London. And the whole trip seemed in jeopardy when on Saturday night, their underground performance in Minsk was raided by the police. This is the first time that the performances have been raided since early July. The police usually just take down everyone’s details as they leave the show. But the significance of this raid was that they stopped the show mid-performance, taking down the actor’s audiences names and passport numbers before letting them go home.
They have been working out of the same small house, teaching students, rehearsing performing for their shows for several years now. But after this raid the actors feel it will not be long before they are unable to use the building. Finding a new building is extremely difficult because it means finding someone brave enough to rent their space to an illegal theatre company.