A member of Pussy Riot has recreated her Russian prison experience

A member of Pussy Riot has recreated her Russian prison experience

On 21 February 2012, a protest punk rock group stormed into Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ Our Saviour and sang a “punk prayer”. Stood at the altar of a Russian Orthodox church, with clergymen and security guards desperately trying to remove them, they sang lyrics like “Mother Mary, please drive Putin away”.

This group was Pussy Riot. Having publicly protested the Catholic Church’s endorsement of Vladimir Putin, they were now embroiled in a legal case at the centre of an international media storm. Three members of the band - Nadya Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich - were arrested and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

A surreal mix of comedy and intimidation, Inside Pussy Riot is an immersive theatre production which documents Nadya’s experience of arrest, trial, imprisonment and release. Imprisoned for a year and a half, she has witnessed firsthand the severity of the law and the corruption of the system.

London’s Saatchi Gallery has been transformed into the key locations from Nadya's story. The experience starts at the scene of the incident. However, it’s political pop culture, not God, that people come here to worship. With references to current goliaths such as Donald Trump and Theresa May, the events have been slightly recontextualised with the addition of more topical faces.

“We are making the show because you have to pay a certain price and you have to make a commitment in order to achieve something,” Nadya explained to The Stage. “You can’t always be in your comfort zone to make big changes.”

During the performance, you can expect to be interrogated, shouted at and forced to perform tasks that make little to no sense. Of course, this doesn't happen without a “trial” - a part of the performance which plays on the circus of the Russian judicial system. From here, you are then slung into one of Putin’s prisons.

A clown-like judge sends the defendant to prison

Much of the experience is about compliance and, as with a lot of immersive theatre, it’s hard to know whether to spectate on what’s going on around you or try to affect it. In hindsight however, challenging the guards' authority would have had the same effect as heckling a comedian. The power is most definitely in their hands.

“One of the most important things I wanted to do with this project was to break the wall that separates prisoners and normal people,” Nadya says. “Or, should I say, so-called normal people who don’t really understand that at any given moment something can happen and you could find yourself in prison suddenly, because sometimes corruption happens. You could just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

No doubt, the experience doesn't compare to being incarcerated in a real Russian prison. That said, even though it was late and I was tired, I felt weirdly content on my way home. A London Underground train made for a far more comforting environment.

The production aims to be entertaining, scary, educational, transformative - probably a few too many objectives for a one-hour show. In parts, however, the performance is extremely clever. It successfully explores the totalitarian style of Russian rehabilitation and the culture of fear it creates.

Instead of using the widely-broadcast news story to show the world that Russia had moved forward, Nadya was made an example of. In a country whose human rights abuses are well documented, this meant a punishment which hugely outweighed the crime.

Inside Pussy Riot is produced in conjunction with Les Enfants Terribles and runs until 24 December at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Tickets start from £21.50.