Thalia Theater Hamburg – Kirill Serebrennikov

Der Wij (The Viy)
by Kirill Serebrennikov and Bohdan Pankrukhin

Inspired by a Nikolai Gogol novella

The Peiraios 260 programme kicks off with a new performance by avant-garde Russian theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov, marking his Greek debut, a major event in terms of both its artistic and anti-war symbolic implications.

Serebrennikov, former Artistic Director (2012-2021) of the famed Gogol Center in Moscow, was the only Russian director invited to a European festival (Cannes) in 2022, despite the boycott of Russian artists. He is also well-known for his LGBTQI+ activism and his conflict with the Russian regime that led to the Gogol Center shutdown in 2021. Charged with the embezzlement of public money, he was placed under house arrest and was ultimately sentenced to probation in 2020. However, in 2022, his sentence was cancelled. Nowadays, residing in Germany in self-exile, he continues to vocally oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Der Wij, a performance featuring Russian, Ukrainian and German actors, each performing in their own language, encapsulates his opposition and indignation.

In a fantasy/horror novella he authored in 1835, Nikolai Gogol, the father of Russian realism, himself of Ukrainian heritage, invented a terrifying creature called Viy (“Wij” in German), taking inspiration from a Slavic folk legend. The creature was almost blind, its eyelids so long as to touch the ground; however, whenever it managed to open its eyes, it was capable of killing whomever it stared at by a single gaze.

Using the Viy legend as a springboard, Serebrennikov conjures a performance of both intolerable cruelty and poetic power. Together with a young Ukrainian writer, Bohdan Pankrukhin, they began penning the stage adaptation in 2022. The duo, as he mentions in his directorial note, “read hundreds of reports and watched documentaries and videos about the war. Bucha, Mariupol, Irpin… Hell on earth. Innocent victims. Monstrous crimes. Documented evidence of barbaric acts. In this production, the Viy is war – a soulless monster with closed eyes that steals people’s identity and futures […] People kill each other and themselves”.

Spectators will come to realize the cynicism of war regardless of sides; they will bear witness to a kind of hell speaking out against the total abjection of human life by means of a brutal language. The play had its premiere in Hamburg in December 2022.