'If all the world could have seen't, the woe had been universal' Act V, Scene II The Winter's Tale
Ice Road’s production is undeniably powerful. The frankly stunning use of space, the sophistication of lighting and sound that bring the Siege to life, and the creativity of the story-telling all contribute to an original play that simultaneously punches and enchants. Ingenious and immersive, it would be enough to recommend the play simply due to these attributes.
The play’s potential to educate is enormous. The Siege of Leningrad was a devastation that lasted from 1941-1944 and took with it so many lives it is dizzying to even think of such numbers: an estimated 645,000 civilians, over a million soldiers lost on the front, and countless others who were never accounted for. The horrors of that period, from crippling starvation to cannibalism, were symptoms of a society that crumbled along with the hopes of its people. Ice Road aims to make this history accessible, by presenting it through the eyes of four orphans whose concern isn’t politics, but simply survival.
It is clear and commendable that the show is produced with great care, research and intent. The immersive nature of the production aims to create a real sense of the Siege; from the moment the show begins, you enter a barren and bleak space, and walk in snow throughout the promenade performance. As well as a starkly realistic space- the word ‘set’ doesn’t seem to do it justice- the production combines realism with the limitless creative opportunities of technology to enhance the experience, such as huge projected planes on the ceiling and rumbling audio below your feet. It is evident that a huge amount of work was conducted to make the production more authentic, and I was honestly impressed at the inclusion of less well-known Soviet posters and snippets of folk songs. It would be an understatement to say that I admired the inventive multimedia: using animation as a storytelling tool was as affecting as it was imaginative, and the characters’ mental escapism was demonstrated in a scene through wearable speakers that transported us to a symphony orchestra.
This, however, is where my personal emotions towards the show begin to struggle. As a half-Russian having lived in the UK for the majority of my life, it often pains me how little Russia and its history is understood outside its borders. The play had so many opportunities- to inform of the depth of Leningrad’s atrocities, to show the harrowing effects on unimaginable numbers of people, to express the Russian spirit and how it suffered- yet, for me, the play doesn’t manage to live up to what it could be.
What is inescapable is the sense that the play is very distant from what it seeks to represent. The real psychological trauma of entrapment and human atrocity does not come through as much as it could in immersive theatre- the audience should leave utterly heartbroken, yet the post-show attitude seemed largely to express vague pity or remark on the spectacular design.
Except from the odd passing comment, which often felt forced and embedded in the script, the play didn’t express the facts or breadth of the tragedy or leave the audience especially more knowledgeable than when they arrived. The writing leaves some bizarre plot-points unexplained and presents characters that sometimes feel too obvious- the calm older child, the rebellious and swearing middle child, the weepy young one- although this is saved by the actors’ superb portrayals that make them seem more nuanced and relatable. It is impossible not to be reminded that no one in the production or audience could have experienced something similar, and the play doesn’t do enough for us to completely be able to suspend our disbelief and feel the emotions that would make the history hit our hearts.
Perhaps I expected too much. Perhaps, in a time and a place where it is difficult to relate to the horrors of wartime the task of recreating it in 70 minutes is an impossible one. Still, my belief is that the scope of imagination in theatre and its ability to connect one mind to another across borders and time is unparalleled. Through inventive productions, we can begin to learn and understand experiences that are so other from our own. It is my hope, then, that even if I feel the production doesn’t educate or carry the weight of the disaster, that others would disagree. It is my hope that after seeing this undoubtedly beautiful play, which fully deserves to be seen, that others will feel a little closer to those countless lives that suffered.
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Alina Young, English Literature Student