I’m an Englishman whose knowledge of Romania consists of little more than childhood memories of the exotic Romanian stamps in my fortnightly delivery of the “Stanley Gibbons Catalogue” assortment of World postage stamps. Eventually of course I grew up. I discovered there were fascist regimes, such as Ceausescu in Romania and Nixon in the USA. I also went to Poland in the early nineteen eighties and in 1985 went to Russia and the Ukraine. To this day I remember with pleasure the time I asked my Soviet minder if he was not frightened of Solidarnosc in Poland. “The Polish people are scared of the Russian bear”, he replied. History of course has shown that while the peoples of the Warsaw pact countries might have been scared of the Russian bear they eventually brought him down.
The title of the play is very apt. Nothing oppresses more than memory, presumably even more so in a state where memory is airbrushed. The Forum theatre performers are not actors. They are real people, Romanian “exiles” living in London. On stage they play a version of themselves. It’s the birthday party of one of them. They use the celebratory occasion to moan to each other about their fate. One character has only topic of conversation: the hated old Communism. He’s like some Japanese soldier still hiding in a tree, decades after the Second World War. Another character is you might think a good role model for a post-Ceausescu Romanian, an entrepreneur in one of the country’s leading industries. Unfortunately, the industry in question is cybercrime. Another character has resolved her Romanian past by becoming a sophisticated London girl. When offered Romanian wine she says she would prefer “English”. A fourth character is Romanian and black. His dilemma, as he points out, is that in Romania he couldn’t get work because he is black but in London he can’t get work because he’s Romanian. All the characters are disconnected from each other. The one thing they have in common is that they are all suffering from what you might call P.C.S.D: Post-Communist Stress Disorder.
The facilitator then stops the play. Does anyone in the audience think they could step into the role of one of the actors and cause a more positive outcome? The rule is only one actor can be changed at a time and if the audience accept the character change the original actor returns and adopts the new characteristic. One member of the audience replaced the guy who talked about communism all the time with one who didn’t talk about it quite so much. The positive effect was immediate. The London girl was replaced by a London girl was cool about drinking Romanian wine. Then in a daringly optimistic character-change the guy who can’t find a job in London because he’s Romanian becomes a guy who could possibly find a job in London, even though he’s Romanian. However the show-stopper turns out to be the policewoman who in the original story comes to arrest them all for cybercrime. A member of the audience transforms her into a joke policewoman who is a birthday prank. The point is of course that post-Ceausescu Romanians have got nothing to worry about. As I said, they brought down the Russian bear didn’t they?