September 18, 2017 / 3:14 PM / 3 years ago

Audience, actors cry foul about arrest of Russian theater director

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A play staged by arrested Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov drew a full house on its first night at a Moscow theater, with many in the audience and cast expressing solidarity with the director who they said is being punished for his liberal views.

Russian theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov, who was accused of embezzling state funds and placed under house arrest, gestures after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Russian authorities detained Serebrennikov, an award-winning film and theater director and critic of Kremlin policies, in August on charges of embezzling state funds. He is being held under house arrest until Oct. 19 pending trial.

Serebrennikov had started work on his production of Alexander Pushkin’s ‘The Little Tragedies’ at his Gogol Center in central Moscow before his arrest.

After the cast took the bow at the end of the play’s premiere this weekend, the audience broke into rapturous applause when a video projection threw up his image on a screen hung across the stage.

“It’s a shame that our state is trying to lock up people like him, who are trying to think and to express their opinions,” Gennady Volkov, one of the viewers, told Reuters.

In some of his works, Serebrennikov has particularly poked fun at the growing role of the state and the Russian Orthodox Church in society.

Though Serebrennikov has a history of criticizing the authorities, President Vladimir Putin denied this month that censorship or political pressure was behind his detention.

“All of this is pure politics. KGB agents have always done that to people who challenge the public, and they are doing it again now,” said journalist Yevgenia Albats, an outspoken critic of Putin.

“And (Kirill) Serebrennikov is a victim of the processes which are going on in the country.”

Russian investigators say Serebrennikov embezzled at least 68 million rubles ($1.18 million) in state funds earmarked for an art project. Serebrennikov denies the charges.

“For people who think and who know what is going on, the whole situation looks absurd. And first of all for us,” said Filipp Avdeyev, one of the cast.

“We know him not just as spectators who watch his plays, we know him as a personality. And it is impossible to believe in that (what he is accused of).”

Serebrennikov’s arrest has complicated plans too to stage the premiere of a ballet about the late Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev at the Bolshoi Theater, its director general Vladimir Urin said last week.

The ballet ‘Nureyev’ might also be performed in the absence of its director, Urin said.

The ballet was pulled on July 11, just two days before it had been due to open. Urin said at the time the performers were not ready and that it would instead be staged next May.

Reporting by Valery Stepchenkov and Gennady Novik; Additional reporting by Maria Vasilyeva; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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