Most protest takes the form of theatre, a spectacle that disrupts the status quo. Counting Sheep, Mark and Marichka Marczyk's folk opera, inspired by their personal experiences of manning the barricades in Kiev's Maidan Square during the 2014 uprising, harnesses that close cousinage to create a messy vibrant evening in which life and death, weddings and funerals tango together in close embrace.
The show describes itself as immersive, and it is for the audience members who get to sit at long trestle tables, eat borscht (delicious) and drink vodka (even more delicious), dance and then help to build the barricades as young Ukrainians take to the streets to protest their then government's pro-Russian policies.
Mind you, there is something jarring about the idea that you pay to be a Premium Protester, while those who pay less for their tickets simply watch. On the other hand, the set-up also neatly conveys the idea that in every attempted revolution there are also bystanders.
Filmed footage of the actual protests is projected onto the walls throughout and, as the government crack-down begins, riot police and snipers are brought in. The film of the dead and funeral caskets being passed through the crowd tends to only emphasise that those in the middle of the space are merely playing at revolution, and unsuccessful one at that. In the aftermath of the protests Russia annexed Crimea and there is no end in sight to the on-going war in Eastern Ukraine which has seen 10,000 casualties since 2014.
It's good to be reminded of something that has dropped out of the news headlines, but in wrapping the love story of Canadian Mark Marczak with Maricha—the beautiful stranger he meets on the barricade—the evening risks over romanticization and making this seem a bit like Les Miserables but with polyphonic music. It's the music that really makes this special, an utterly beguiling mix of traditional folk songs and composed pieces which float across the performance so that singing and grieving become entwined. This is where the real heart of this evening lies in the songs of ordinary people and in the textured way it captures heightened emotional sensibility of a city living on the edge, a place where couples dance in the half-light of an early morning because they know there may be no tomorrow.
This may look messy—but then protest is messy—but it is quite cunningly constructed. It even belatedly deals with the first question it raises: exactly whose story this is to tell? The show's initial narrator is Canadian.
Sure, there is quite a lot of herding around in a small space and perhaps not enough background explanation about the protests, but at its best it conveys the intensity of being alive in a situation where death can claim you at any moment.
Counting Sheep plays throughout VAULT Festival, with the final date on 17 March. You can buy tickets right here on Stagedoor