Drama review: Take The Rubbish Out Sasha, Glasgow

AS THE play begins, Katya the mother and Oksana the daughter are in the kitchen of Katya’s house, cooking and arguing.

Jill Riddiford and Jenny Hulse beautifully capture how Russia is torn by the new conflict. Picture: Contributed

Take The Rubbish Out Sasha

Oran Mor, Glasgow

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Between them sits a man in pyjamas, the Sasha of the title; but it soon becomes clear that Sasha is both there and not there, since the food Katya and Oksana are preparing is for his funeral feast.

Sasha was an officer in the Ukrainian army, a good man despite a drink problem, a loving husband to Katya - who never has a good word to say about him - and a kindly stepfather to Oksana.

Now, though, he has died suddenly of a heart attack; and the two women find themselves alone, abandoned both by Sasha – whose death Katya takes as a personal insult – and by Oksana’s partner Oleg, who has left her heavily pregnant.

Both women heartily wish that Sasha would just come back; but as war looms on the horizon, Sasha’s eventual reappearance takes on a strange aspect, part saviour come to defend the fatherland, part harbinger of something ominous and out of place.

This is Take The Rubbish Out Sasha, by Natalia Vorozhbyt, the first of a season of short plays from Russia and Ukraine curated by Scottish playwright Nicola McCartney, co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, and presented as part of this spring’s Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season; and as it transfers to the Traverse from tomorrow, Edinburgh audiences will also have a chance to enjoy its hard-edged absurdist humour, and its complex layers of meaning.

It conjures up a post-Soviet world in which economic change has transformed gender relations; it also exposes the layers of unresolved history surrounding the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, and the new conflict that has now arisen from that unfinished story.

In Nicola McCartney’s production, with English text by Sasha Dugdale, all of this is beautifully captured by Jill Riddiford as Katya, Jenny Hulse as Oksana and Paul Cunningham as Sasha. The tone is light, and a little surreal; but the voice of human bewilderment and resilience the face of massive political and economic change is unmistakable, and instantly recognisable.

In May, the Russia/Ukraine season continues with plays by two young Russian writers whose work is regarded as both bold and controversial, in the Russia of 2015.

Milkhail Durnenkov’s The War Hasn’t Started Yet offers a searing glimpse of contemporary Russia through tiny cameo scenes featuring several different characters; Yuri Klavdiev’s Thoughts Spoken Aloud From Above is a surreal story about a contemporary Russian man who escapes to the forest, only to be haunted by visions of key figures in contemporary life, including one of Russian theatre’s first serious lesbian characters. And as Nicola McCartney points out, all three plays should offer a vital insight into societies where theatre plays a vital role, as one of the few vehicles of expression for those who dissent from the status quo, but struggle to make their voices heard.

• Take The Rubbish Out Sasha is at the Traverse Theatre from 31 March to 4 April.

The War Hasn’t Started Yet and Thoughts Spoken Aloud From Above at Oran Mor, Glasgow, 4-9 and 25-30 May.