Review: Imago’s “Intractable Woman” a powerful political piece on an intrepid war journalist’s fight for freedom

Anna Politkovskaya's true story of oppression takes centre stage at the Centaur

(Left to right) The all-female cast of Warona Setshwaelo, Deena Aziz, and Laura Condlln in Imago Theatre’s “Intractable Woman” at the Centaur Theatre (Photo courtesy of Imago)

Imago Theatre opens its 2016/2017 artistic season with the Canadian premiere of “Intractable Woman” written by Stefano Massini, translated by Paula Wing, and directed by Micheline Chevrier. A provocative and politically charged piece on the true story of a dogged journalist’s fight for social justice and freedom of expression, it plays at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre until February 18th. Read our full review below.

It was on the grey, cold afternoon of Vladimir Putin’s 54th birthday – October 7, 2006 – that one of his fiercest critics was unceremoniously sent to stifling, silencing slumber.

The only Russian journalist to have covered the Second Chechen War, Anna Politkovskaya was a rare independent voice. She dared to venture and speak where and when others would not, fearlessly reporting on the brutalities of the Russian regime throughout the militant conflict. While the realities she revealed through her investigative writing won her numerous international accolades for her contributions to the advancement of human rights, her expository work over the years repeatedly drew the wrath of her threatened opponents, eventually triggering their ultimate act of reprisal and retaliation: murder.

The face of merciless death was not unfamiliar to Politkovskaya when she was found slain by gunshot in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. Apart from willingly making herself a witness to bombings in Grozny, she was continuously harassed, arrested, forced into exile, and persecuted throughout the course of her crusade. Information is power, as they say – but whether it is a liberty or a burden is quite up to debate.

(Left to right) Warona Setshwaelo and Laura Condlln in Imago’s “Intractable Woman” (Photo courtesy of Imago)

Stefano Massini’s dramatic script is here given vivid, descriptive (and sometimes aggravatingly graphic) life through Deena Aziz, Laura Condlln, and Warona Setshwaelo under the collaborative direction of Imago’s own Artistic and Executive Director Micheline Chevrier. As the performing trio switch and take commanding turns in Politkovskaya’s skin, we hear hair-rising chronicles of her most tormenting of experiences in war-stricken Chechnya. From the unfathomable of negotiating the release of 850 hostages with terrorists to waking disoriented in a hospital ward after being poisoned on a plane, it’s impossible not to be galvanized by the harrowing narrative.

The politically charged yet poetic piece pleads for sharp storytellers of exceptional intellect and bravura, and fortunately the high-calibre cast hits the mark. There is no weak link among the award-winning, tightly woven acting ensemble of Aziz, Condlln and Setshwaelo.

Deena Aziz in Imago Theatre’s “Intractable Woman”

Granted, theatregoers expecting more literal displays of bloodshed and action might not be as enthused: the production is text-heavy, sitting at the intersection of art and politics as a form of (non-verbatim) documentary play. Slick staging and blocking by movement coach Leslie Baker, however, give the long-winded piece a physical pulse, as do Peter Cerone’s integrative sound and video design. Insert Eo Sharp’s hard-lined industrial set design and inject Robert Thomson’s fittingly black-and-blue lighting, and the chilling image of a prisoner’s inhospitable world disturbs the senses.

Extraordinary stories of remarkable women have been at the heart of Imago

Here with “Intractable Woman”, Imago Theatre once again honours its ongoing commitment to bring the feminine perspective to the stage. Also in fulfillment of its mandate to serve as “Catalysts for Conversation”, moderated talk-backs between the audience, the cast, the creative team and a prominent guest speaker are held after each performance (see the full lineup of speakers here). In further effort to democratize and break down the barriers of access to theatre, all tickets at the door are made available on a “Pay-What-You-Decide” basis.

The transcendent Intractable Woman is alarmingly relevant, awakening the evading conscience to overlooked social issues worldwide while also bearing frightening resemblance to current headlining conflicts taking place across adjacent borders – namely those involving accusations of “dishonest media”. As a relentless advocate for freedom of the press and from censorship, Politkovskaya posthumously stands, for us, as an utmost figure of inspiration; here, her urgent story lives in all the intrepidity and integrity one could ask for.

Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon

“Intractable Woman” presented by Imago Theatre runs at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre (453 Saint-Francois-Xavier, H2Y 2T1) from February 9th to 18th, 2017. Tickets are “pay-what-you-decide” but can be reserved in advance by calling the Box Office at 514-288-3161. For more information visit:

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