The well-known theater teacher Oleg Kudryashov, goes beyond psychological realism in his workshop in the Academy of theatre arts. His students are among the most popular actors today: they are equally successful in drama theatres and musical performances, in the "new drama" and classical productions. In the production of BABUSHKI (GRANNIES) they experiment with documentary theatre. Six actresses play old village women in shawls and felt boots sitting on a bench, dangling their legs and giving an interview to a Moscow journalist. They tell him about their lives, interrupting and echoing each other. At some point their voices blend into a sheer hubbub flowing into Russian folk songs sung by the old women in unison. Gradually the playful acting acquires features of reality and we see real old women instead of young dressed up actresses. The performance is based on audio and video recordings collected by ethnographers. The play gradually recreates the world of the Russian village. The first half of the performance is an ode to it, the second one is a requiem, a farewell to the village, disappearing, being lost in oblivion.
Everyone of us has a granny, and even if she passed away, we store her image in the archives of our memory. Because a granny means apple pasties, long talks of soap operas, wars against neighbours, some valuable advice on eligible admirers. All in all, a granny constitutes a whole world that no single word can embrace. Or rather could not have embraced, but the Praktika theatre has managed to do so.
Saint-Petersburg Theatre Journal
…Girls are adorable at playing grannies: with some kind of shabby coats, shawls and Russian ear flaps fur caps on, they seat themselves in a row on a bench in front on the microphone and get to talk about themselves, first rather embarrassed, then more and more freely. It is of no use to retell bitter lots of the cheerful grannies as their stories embrace our history: work around the clock at the collective farms, marriage without love, their husbands chastising them, deaths of their husbands, their children – some of them dying, others leaving and forgetting their mothers. And how they laughed, sang, and danced at their amateur performances.
But the point is not these stories, even though they are powerful and – above all - real-life. The point is how beneath our eyes these girls turn out grannies without any make-up, how everyone of them reveals her character making it evident who is a leader and a songbird and who is, on the contrary, a timid little thing. How funny, enchanting, touching they are, without tears and vulgar sentimentality. How great they are in grasping and conveying that very music of various kinds of the Russian language that dialectologists are so anxious to hunt after. How beautifully and well-coordinated they sing together. Every actress plays a specific woman that has a real name, and her biography may be found in the leaflet. All these grannies come from different places – from Central Russia, from Siberia, from the north, and it is evident that their dialects diverge and, if the actresses are precise in conveying them, from the Professor Higgins’s point of view they would never inhabit the same village.
The Moscow News
A new performance by Zemliakova, staged in the genre of the documentary theatre, is based on the "Russian village: stories of its inhabitants" book as well as on the material collected during the research expeditions and on the extracts from Oleg Pavlov’s novel "Asystolia". The action is represented as a succession of interviews given by the old country women to a metropolitan folklorist who comes to the Altai region of Russia situated in the very center of Asia. The roles of the aged collective farmers are performed by six young actresses.
The virtuosity of their performance is the best reason to go see the BABUSHKI. There are also some additional reasons: folk songs by young ladies known for their notable musicality, and a sophisticated work performed by the scenic artists, students of Dmitry Krymov.