39-year-old theatre director Vladimir Shcherban sought refuge in the UK following exile from Belarus in 2010 for his work with theatre collective Belarus Free Theatre, which he co-founded.
The company’s latest show, Price of Money, which explores the relationship between people and money, premiers at the Albany theatre in Deptford today. The show came about after the company felt an immediate connection with the streets, markets and people of the south London neighbourhood.
Here Shcherban chats to The London Word about foxes, garden parties, Hyde Park’s Pet Cemetery and the Piccadilly Line…
‘Naturally I used to love Soho, Covent Garden and Hyde Park. Now I’ve lived in London for three years, I love less crowded places. At the moment I live in Acton and I love walking from Acton to Chiswick.
Five years ago we were in London on our first BFT tour. An acquaintance gave us an informal tour of Banksy’s graffiti sights. This is an example of how art can occur far from its official haunts. For me it was art for the people, not for the chosen few.
Ideally, my perfect London day out would be a sunny day. To be honest, my best “days out” I have so far spent in my wild garden with my friends. Mark Ravenhill or David Gothard would visit. My partner Alex would make a barbeque. We would sip the Spritz and discuss the new ideas and share our deep discontent with British theatre.
In the evening, as a starter, a good theatre show – which is rare – or a film would be a great, followed by a trip to a historical London hot spot like Trisha’s in Soho. I love coming back home through sleepy central London in the early hours of the morning.
Foxes, which live in the city, make London unique. Backyard gardens; I love mine and often host garden parties for my friends. This gives me a feeling as if I am living in the countryside while I am in the middle of the megapolis.
I love all seasons but I especially love it when it snows. It is rare in London and that’s why I like it. London under a blanket of snow is breathtakingly beautiful. I also want to add that despite the rainy climate, it seems to be sunny most weekends. Magic!
The most creative spaces in London are the spaces where I rehearse my shows. It’s a “floating” space; it could be the tunnels of the Old Vic where I did King Lear, a private flat in Limehouse or my own coop flat in Acton Town where I Skype rehearse with the BFT actors in Minsk. It is always the inner space.
I’ve always wanted to go to the Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park. The most horrific, as George Orwell was concerned, place in Britain. Both of the attempts I’ve made to visit were fruitless as it was closed. But what I managed to see through the greens impressed me greatly.
Theatre and film director Peter Brook is my favourite Londoner. His shows influenced and helped form current theatre worldwide. His books about theatre,, which I encountered when I was still in Belarus, are priceless. They’ve made a great impression on me. I still regard them as kind of a tuning fork for a director’s profession. Peter Brook has changed the dated image of a theatre director from a “man who knows everything” to the opposite – a man of doubts. Brook turned doubt into a powerful creative source. His critique of the British theatre is still current and poignant now.
The very irritating thing I find in London is that there are a lot of empty properties and yet, there always seems to be a deficit of accommodation. London keeps its opportunities a secret. You can spend a lot of money on accommodation before you get the right information about cooperatives and other better economical solutions for living.
Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater best encapsulates London. I don’t advocate drugs but the idea of London as an infinite space appeals to me. It could be remade by your individual consciousness. There are as many Londons as there are people living in it.
I travel on the Piccadilly Line and every time I feel as if I am going to suffocate. I read somewhere that half an hour spent on the Piccadilly line could be compared to one smoked cigarette, and I gave up smoking a long time ago.
To relax I just walk a lot. I like exploring London step by step. I love Richmond Park, Chiswick. I don’t like overcrowded places. When I lived in Deptford near Greenwich, before Acton, I loved walking there.
I can’t say I know a bigger inspiration for creation than to be outraged by something unjust. As Stephan Hessel said in his essay Indignez-Vous!: “to create is to resist, to resist is to create”. Outrage is a source of inspiration for me. When you are outraged by the injustice around you, you get a very clear motivation for being on stage, for creating.
Walk in the tunnel under the Thames in Greenwich, especially when no one is around. Tons of water above you, water leaking through the walls, incredible. If you stop in the middle of the tunnel and scream, you would really hear yourself; hear what’s going on in your head. Also, visit the abandoned estates in Elephant and Castle – a ghost town of south London. Graffiti on the walls: there is the diary of real London.
I want to create a show about London foxes. Wild animals when forced to live in the city start resembling humans. It is the other way around with people. Also, 2015 is the year of the tenth anniversary of the BFT and we are planning an anniversary British tour with our 10 key shows made during these years.
Happiness always dwells in the past. Only by looking back can I tell when I was happy. It mightn’t even have looked like happiness to me at the time.’
Price of Money opens 7.30pm tonight at:
The show runs from September 16 to 20 at 7.30pm (and Saturday at 2.30pm).