Riot Days is the punk opera adaption of key member Maria Alyokhina’s memoir of the same name. A Frankenstein’s monster of spoken word, jazz, anarchy and documentary, Pussy Riot currently comprises of four members who heave, writhe and scream through an intense set. Together the ensemble tells the notorious story of Pussy Riot’s protest/performance in a Moscow cathedral and Alyokhina’s subsequent trial and imprisonment.

Pussy Riot’s sound is urgent and hypnotic. Alyokhina and a second member spit rapid Russian spoken word over grinding bass and hard rhythms. As they talk, translations flash momentarily on the screen behind them – it’s hard to keep up.  A bare-chested percussionist drums with theatrical flair. The saxophone, straight from a David Lynch soundtrack, howls and wails. Footage of the events being described is projected onto the screen; Pussy Riot appears to weave in and out of the superimposed images like they are immersing themselves in their past. The result is a cacophony – the performance is incredibly high energy and doesn’t let up until the bitter end.  Yet, there is a fluid unity in the movements of the band: this is practised anarchy.

Pussy Riot may be sensational, but there are real guts to the performance. The anger, desperation and compassion of the plot is confronting when delivered by someone who has been imprisoned, been on hunger strike, and been separated from her young son.  Punk attitude is juxtaposed with vulnerability; at times Alyokhina looks frail and wan, enveloped in a black hoodie and dark glasses, as she recounts her story. And laced through the tale is a little wry humour – sarcastic jokes, a healthy does of irony, and celebrations of small wins.

The performance seems to be over in a flash, a brief collision of subversive sound and energy. As the final notes’ last distortions echo, Pussy Riot announces the funds raised from their t-shirt sales will go towards lawyers for political prisoners in Russia. This is what makes Riot Days stand out from the crowd this Fringe – the show is part of something larger.

★★★★½