BLOG Lee Tisdale

NWR Issue r36

Denis and Katya

The Aberystwyth Arts Centre theatre was an alien place to me until I went there to see Denis + Katya (2019). Through the doors, into the spacious and rather grand theatre, rows of red seats awaited their use, but when I sat down, someone called out to me and said the place wasn’t open yet. He asked for my ticket, I presented it, and he let me stay. Early access; accidentally I’d avoided the commotion of queuing to get into the place!

Moments later, people began flooding into the theatre. On the stage, there was a white, hollow-square setup where four cellists sat in each corner. Inside the square, two actors awaited the ten-minute timer behind them to reach zero, so that their performance could begin. During this countdown, the musicians played for us to set the mood for the event: dark and sombre.

Denis + Katya is a theatre performance based on a real-life event: two Russian teenagers live-streamed their deaths on Periscope after vandalising various possessions, such as shooting a police van and throwing a television out of the window. The event that led them to this was when Katya’s parents beat her in front of Denis and his mother since Katya was caught being out later than she was allowed to be.

Nothing visual was used when the actors were describing the live-stream, aside from the occasional comment which popped up on the giant screen. Despite this, many of the comments were just told to the audience by the actors. The lighting was all white, the musicians were silent and the only imagery was through the vivid verbal descriptions which the actors gave us: the bottles of alcoholic drinks, the gunshots and the description of the old TV etc. I thought this was an interesting take on portraying a video since there was nothing to look at except for the scenes I imagined in my head.

I mentioned before about the cellists; they were an excellent part of the show. When I found my gaze drifting to them, they never seemed to lose focus, and with a very few co-ordination errors, they set the mood and tone for each scene in the play. There were moments where the screen would show text message conversations and the lights would go out, obscuring the cast. During these times, I was just about able to see them; the actors held perfectly still and the cellists played in sync with the audio accompanying the text messages.

The performance was excellent at distinguishing the characters from one another, despite only having two actors and little to no time between character switches. They switched the lighting each time a new character was being played, and the actors intermittently changed their voices depending on who was to be played. For instance, when the “Teacher” was talking, the lights turned bright orange and both actors began singing lines in opera, whilst when the “Journalist” was speaking, the lights were turned very low and colourless. Katya sat down on a chair and sang while Denis spoke normally. There were a couple of times where the lighting was accidentally delayed, changing about two seconds after a character’s name appeared on the screen. A little bit off-putting and disorienting.

There were moments of downtime: the aforementioned live-stream descriptions were the quietest parts, usually happening right after a loud and dramatic scene. Similarly, the end of the performance was an incredibly quiet and reflective moment (and interestingly the only part which uses actual video) where the audience was left to take in the deaths of Denis and Katya.

Overall, I personally enjoyed Denis + Katya very much; it was a brilliant depiction of a real-life tragedy.

Lee Tisdale is one of this season’s Digital Cultural Correspondent in a new partnership with Aberystwyth University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.


previous blog: Patagonian Bones
next blog: National Dance Company Wales: KIN


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