top of page

Theatre of Gulags

Vault festival


Director - Anya Ostrovskaia

Producer - Amy Sze

Scenographer - Jock Maitlandy

Sound designer - Jack Clearwater

Lighting designer - Max Juan-Balch

Movement director - Mariana Camiloti

Stage manager - Miha Grigorean

Videographer - Tatiana Knyazeva

Illustrator - Olga Yurasova

Performers Daniel Grimston, Janeks Babidorics, Eva Mashtaler, Lilit Lesser

Vault festival 2023 at the Cavern:
Winner of the Innovation Award

Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia


Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia
Director Anna Ostrovskaia


Visual references (Museum of Gulag in Moscow).tiff

Theatre of GULAGs is a theatrical installation exploring the dark history of USSR labor camps, and the full-scale theaters that were built inside of them. Theaters behind the fence were filled with artists from distinct theatrical and ethnic backgrounds – all prisoners. You will walk through the camp corridor, where in four confined spaces behind the hessian lines a story of a prisoner will unfold. A Gypsy queer man, a Ukrainian theatre revolutionary, a Jewish puppet maker, first woman to direct an Opera, all trapped inside the gulag walls. They will tell you about their journeys - from their rooms, to the black NKVD cars, to the train carriages with no windows, to barracks, and onto the stage. You will continue walking through the corridor, until you find your seat in a GULAG theatre, and the show of truth will begin.


The show is a theatrical installation which culminates with a performance in a thrust stage configuration. Upon entering the venue space, audience members will be free to wander round four exhibition style performance spaces. 
These spaces, delineated by lighting and divided by hessian sheets hung from the rig, will present four artists (Les Kurbas, Natalia Sats, Hava Volovich, Vadim Kozin) at different points on their journeys to incarceration in the Gulags. 
The spaces will be set with items from the lives and worlds of the artists and their internment, with the audience invited to cohabit this space. In addition, actor representation of the artists will be projected on to the hessian sheets. Arriving at the semi-circular thrust stage, audience members will be confronted by actors playing the four artists who will recount their life at the Theatre of the Gulags and reveal their fate in the camps.


Working on the “Theatre of Gulags” for almost two years as part of my MFA programme at Central has changed a lot for me:  my understanding of the theatre industry in the UK, my own practise and the project itself. When I started working on it I knew exactly what I wanted to be, however what I did not know is that a project like this in itself an intermedial, and multidisciplinary in its’ form would be perceived in the UK differently, then in Eastern Europe. Moreover, the concept of it being a historical event that has happened in a very different part of the world than the UK, would also be understood on a different level by a major and quite diverse audience. I had to find new, different ways on how to approach the storytelling, how to provide enough information for the audience to be able to connect with the material, but not too much so they would miss the essence of the piece. I wouldn’t be able to create it without the team I've been working with, which as well, changed my ideas and challenged me. Working with a scenographer, director of photography, movement director, sound designer, producer, lighting designer, and of course performers has been an amazing and so needed experience for me to make this project come to life. It became an important and interesting collaborative experience for all of us. The diversity of cultures, ages, and artistic approach has helped me to make “Theatre of Gulags” a story anyone could understand, I wouldn’t be able to do this, if not for the thinking Advanced Theatre Practice course has helped me to develop. “Vaults” festival has been an interesting, difficult, but a very important experience for me and the project, the fringe festival with certainly a commercial background might have been not a best fit for “Theatre of Gulags” being a very non-conventional and ecstatic project, however it’s not just awarded us with the “Innovation of style” award, but has helped me to see where my project and I’m myself as a practitioner need to  develop in the future. I want to find my own audience and find spaces and communities, where my “otherness” in style and topics will be met with interest and inspiration. I have a long way to go to find my own space in the world of theatre, however I’m ready and will not look back. 


Sketches from my Life by Natalia Sats
My Cursed Art by Vadim Kozin 
A story without a name by Hava Volovich 
Memoirs about Les Kurbas, a collection by Les Kurbas memoir centre. 

bottom of page