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Not an easy watch: the harrowing Purge @Arcolatheatre

PURGESofi Oksanen's Purge isn't an easy play to watch, particularly in the small, intimate studio space at the Arcola. But this harrowing story is nonetheless interesting and compelling.

Set in Estonia and spanning the middle to late period of the 20th century it is personal story of love and survival wrapped up in the history and politics of the time. If you know nothing of this eastern European country's history then it is worth investing in a programme (£1.50) for the whistle-stop timeline to put the story into context.

The play opens with a harrowing film clip of a blindfolded woman being physically and sexually abused by unidentified men. We then jump to the remote country home of elderly woman Aliide (Illona Linthwaite) who finds a dishevelled, battered and inappropriately dressed young woman Zara (Elicia Daly), asleep in her yard. 

Zara, it turns out, is on the run but her past has parallels with Aliide's.

Flipping back and forth in time, the story of the two women's lives unfold, shaped by a horrific period of occupation and oppression, when survival means making the toughest of decisions. In helping Zara, Aliide has to confront her past and choices she made.

This is an emotionally wrought, stark piece, the fear and danger like an ever present extra character.  A compelling piece, at its heart it is a story about the lengths you'll go to for those you love.

There are some great performances and one or two that feel slightly too big for the intimate performance space of the Arcola's studio my only other slight grumble is the late start time (8pm) for a play that is over two and a half hours long (some of us mere mortal audience members have to get up for work the next day).

Enjoyable probably isn't the right word  for Purge but this is a great bit of theatre and I am going to give it 4 stars.

Purge runs at the Arcola's studio space until March 24.

Production photo: Simon Kane