Once the toast of Russia’s avant garde, Serebennikov now faces a 10-year jail sentence. As his powerful, sexually charged play Outside is staged in Avignon, he vows he won’t be silenced
On the stage of a small theatre outside Avignon, a man paces around a mock-up of an apartment. Music issues from somewhere and there is a sense of a cityscape, close but impossible to reach. The man mutters to his shadow, sees visions, engages in conversation with people who might or might not be there. The door bursts open, revealing goons wearing the uniform of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). An interrogation commences. Afterwards, the man stands looking out, illuminated by an outsized red star that looks as if it’s been filched from the roof of the Kremlin. Later, he attempts to crank open the window and jump.
This is Outside, a new play that has just opened at the Avignon festival. As the images pile up, they make you think of one thing above all else: the director and writer of the work, Russian theatremaker Kirill Serebrennikov. He’s not so much the ghost at the feast here as a kind of gaping void, probably the most talked about person in town yet invisible but for a few photographs. Arrested in August 2017 on fraud charges, and until recently held under house arrest in conditions resembling those of the man on stage, the director is still not permitted to leave Moscow.