Gareth K Vile meets the man behind ‘guerrilla folk opera’ Counting Sheep, one of the most exciting shows at this year’s Fringe

F ollowing in a i ne tradition of immersive theatre connected to Summerhall’s Fringe programming, Counting Sheep is emerging as one of the most discussed pieces of 2016. Lemon Bucket Orkestra have occupied the King’s Hall, and use the church’s space to recreate the ‘revolution of dignity’, a popular uprising against the Ukrainian government in 2014. With the audience fed and invited to become part of the action even throwing bricks across barricades and mourning the fallen in a i nal, moving ritual Mark and Marichka Marczyk have imagined a way for theatre to shatter the fourth wall and place the spectator at the heart of the action.

‘People call us immersive theatre,’ says Mark Marczyk. ‘I like to call us a guerrilla folk opera. I don’t know if there’s a term like that in the theatre world. But what I’ve seen of other theatre, even immersive theatre, none of those quite capture what we’re trying to do.’ Certainly, Counting Sheep goes far beyond the predictable strategies of performance, driven by the punky dance music of Lemon Bucket Orkestra and demolishing the set to rebuild it as a line of defence against the state’s militarised police force.

Surrounding the space with large screens which display news footage from the revolution, and provide commentary on the activity below, the show’s intentions are explicitly political and partisan. The corruption of the Ukrainian state, and the subsequent encroachment of Russian military power, are condemned. The audience, swept into the action,

become the protestors, witnessing the optimism of the uprising and its subsequent tragic conclusion.

Marcyzk’s desire to share his experience of the revolution encouraged this multimedia approach. ‘I say guerrilla folk opera, because the show was birthed out of the desire of non-theatre practitioners to express something very deep using the maximum number of performance elements at their disposal. That means i rst-hand footage, videos, wood, tyres, food.’ The political approach extended into the ethics of creation: ‘Anything that we could get our community to donate, we used. Nothing was wasted.’ The impact of the show is immediate. From the news reports that introduce the action to the climactic ritual at the end, the issues surrounding the revolution are treated with emotive attention to detail. While the scope of the performance is huge the tensions between Russia and the EU contributed to the violent response of the state to the protests it is the small touches that hit home. A mobile phone rings in the pocket of a murdered protestor. A cast member places his hand on the shoulder of an audience member and welcomes them. The broad political points which celebrate resistance and speak truth to power are matched by the recognition that community is built from thousands of intimate connections.

Mark and Marichka’s personal involvement in the revolution clearly encouraged them to respect the values of the protestors, and reject any

18–29 Aug 2016 THE LIST FESTIVAL 19