Reviews: Warsaw Theatre Festival 2012

Stranger Danger

A sumptuous production in Warsaw bodes well for this year’s Edinburgh Festival, writes Mark Brown

T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T, a stage adaptation of Pasolini’s famous 1968 movie Teorema, felt like the right show with which to begin my visit to this year’s Warsaw Theatre Festival; not least because it is the work of TR Warszawa and director Grzegorz Jarzyna, who are bringing their 2008: Macbeth to the Edinburgh International Festival in August. Like Pasolini’s film, T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T focuses upon the catastrophic consequences for the members of a stagnating, bourgeois family of the arrival in their home of a sexually magnetic stranger. In relocating the story from screen to stage, Jarzyna has created a brilliantly acted, visually sumptuous and technically highly accomplished piece.

Before the stranger arrives, we see a series of beautifully staged tableaux in which the family repeat, with the slightest variations, the routines of their affluent-yet-torpid lives; one is reminded of William Blake’s aphorism, “expect poison from the standing water”. And poison there is as, unredeemed by their sexual encounters with the mysterious stranger, each member of the family collapses into personal crisis.

Jarzyna stands in the modern, continental European tradition of the director’s theatre, in which the director is king. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that he makes additions to Pasolini’s screenplay. Both at the beginning and the end of this stage play, interviews are conducted with the family’s patriarch, Paolo, which reflect his dissatisfaction with capitalism and his spiritual uncertainty. There are also, at the end of the piece, an incongruous series of vox pop films in which Polish people are stopped in the street and asked if they believe in miracles. One can’t help but believe that the director would have done better to leave Pasolini’s ending (Paolo screaming, alone and naked in the desert) well alone.

Given the massive existential and spiritual implications of the piece, I wanted to feel more, rather than merely marvelling at the visual beauty of Jarzyna’s production. Nevertheless, the sheer skill and aesthetic brilliance of the work bodes well for TR Warszawa’s forthcoming visit to Edinburgh.

Scottish audiences should consider themselves fortunate that it is Jarzyna, and not Wiktor Rubin, who is bringing work to the Edinburgh International Festival. Rubin’s Joanna The Mad Queen for Teatr Powszechny, in which 16th-century Spain is gatecrashed by a particularly puerile 21st-century culture, is one of the most vacuous and irritating manifestations of postmodern theatre I have ever witnessed. Joanna – who, at one point, and for no discernible reason, sings Somewhere Over The Rainbow – wears a dress made entirely of police tape with the word “caution” printed on it. Meanwhile, with a miniature Leaning Tower of Pisa elevated in the background, Joanna’s king and his lover browse through porn mags.

Where Rubin’s piece is an exercise in sheer, bloody-minded redundancy, the experimental theatre company Komuna’s Sierakowski offers, with live music and often humorous choreography, a variously successful series of visions of the future of Poland, the world and the young leader of the contemporary Polish left Sławomir Sierakowski. Alighting upon thinkers past and present who are important to the left, from Hegel to Theodor Adorno and Slavoj Žižek, the piece is a sometimes witty, sometimes self-indulgently pretentious work of philosophical circus. But I’ll take that over Rubin’s postmodern mess any day of the week.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on April 1, 2012

© Mark Brown

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