Back in those long-ago days of the Cold War, there was great excitement in the West about the samizdat literature from behind the Iron Curtain. It contained exotic, seductive hints of a forbidden, rebellious sub-culture sneaking behind those stone-faced lines of Red Army soldiers stamping across Red Square.
That looks like ancient history now, but there is still one state in Europe in which much the same conditions prevail - Belarus, with its madly moustached and oddly autocratic president Alexander Lukashenko. Struggling to survive in this suffocating environment is an independent-minded theatre group, aptly named Free Theatre.
To put on its performances in Belarus it has to adopt the kinds of dodges that were all too familiar to dissidents of the post-Stalinist age: banned from a theatre, it moved to a bar. Banned from there, it moved to a private flat. Banned from that, it moved into a forest, pretending that the event was a wedding, until the secret service men left.
Now it has escaped from that suffocating pressure, emerging into the free, if grubby, air of Islington with its first English-language production, aptly titled Techniques of Breathing in an Airlocked Space. Written by the Russian Natalia Moshina, this is not an obviously political play - indeed it is a strong character-centred piece, surprisingly living up to its billing of containing plenty of laughs.
You might find it hard to believe when I tell you that the central line of the plot concerns a 19-year-old woman in a cancer sanitorium, seemingly with little hope of recovery, but from the very first scene as that woman, Nadia (Rebecca Gross) encounters the bonily awkward adolescent Vitya — he's "in" for leukemia — it is evident that Moshina is a playwright who understands the need to entertain, whatever her underlying messages might be.
And it is evident that this will be a production of considerable acting class. We might disappear behind the head-scarfed baldness into what could easily be cliched teenage angst, but there's an honest awkwardness that is both moving, and funny.
I say plot line, but there is only a thin line of connection between this scene and the one that follows - four young students try to tackle a challenging PR assignment - to dream up a new religion that will make a fortune for its founders. There's Timofei (Daniel Bayle), the cool one, with the appropriately ultra-blonde girlfriend Sveta (Lisa McDonald), and two young strivers, Venya (Tom Newton) and Kilt (Matthew Pearson).