On 1 December 2022, the TORCH Reimagining Performance Network hosted a reading and discussion of extracts of two new plays by leading Ukrainian playwrights Anastasiia Kosodii and Kateryna Penkova.
The plays were commissioned by Molly Flynn, a specialist in contemporary Ukrainian and Russian documentary theatre at Birkbeck, University of London, on behalf of Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre and Birkbeck’s Institute for Gender and Sexuality. Both texts were translated into English by Helena Kernan. Anastasiia’s piece, which she read herself, gave voice to the complex emotions of trying to go about your daily life when your home is under invasion, and the history of the city’s landscape as a backdrop to war, and as so much more than that. Kateryna’s play, read by Molly, documented the story of a fellow refugee she had met, whose stories were shared with permission: a woman rushes to take her youngest child, injured in bed in a barrage of shelling, to hospital through further attacks, having to leave her older child hiding at home, and the traumatic scenes of the hospital.
Following the readings, a discussion was chaired by cultural historian of Ukraine Zbig Wojnowski (Oxford). The writers talked with Zbig about the translation of the plays into English, and about language more broadly – both writers have worked in Russian previously, but switched to writing in Ukrainian as a political choice following the invasion. Anastasiia also talked about writing in English for both wider international access and for ease of translation: she currently writes articles for German media in English, which are then translated into German.
There were questions about the potential staging of these plays, how the writers envisaged them being performed (if at all), and the current state of theatre in Ukraine amidst the war. The role of theatre in political resistance and national culture, and the place of these plays within a wider context of creative defiance, emerged powerfully in the discussion.
On a personal note, this event was so different to anything else I’ve attended in Oxford, and it was an immense privilege to have been a part of it. Many Ukrainians in Oxford attended, and in the open discussion located themselves and their experiences within what the plays discussed. One attendee asked for advice on how to share her own stories as a refugee in similarly creative ways. Some questions were asked and answered in Ukrainian, and translated after the fact by translator Daria Ihnatenko. Everything about this event felt like a part of something much larger, which of course it was.
Thank you to our playwrights, Anastasiia and Kateryna, for sharing their incredible work; to Molly for commissioning and for her invaluable expertise; to Zbig for chairing and bringing his insight to the discussion; and to Daria for translating.
The event was free to attend, but we recommended anyone in a position to do so to donate to to Come Back Alive or Razom for Ukraine.
If you want to learn more about contemporary theatre in Ukraine, Molly Flynn speaks on the Practice Makes… The Oxford Reimagining Performance Podcast episode on documentary theatre.
Women and War in Ukrainian New Drama
Reimagining Performance Network, TORCH Networks