Illuminating, provocative, iconic - those are a few of the adjectives used by French critics in their reviews of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s newest Nowy Teatr production
Warsaw Cabaret is being staged at the Avignon festival from the 5th through the 26th of July. A great majority in the French press has been extremely enthusiastic about the Polish director’s new piece. Le Nouvel Observateur wrote that Warlikowski depicts a cabaret saturated with sex, rock and roll, and demons of the past as it attempts to fight against historic oblivion. The journal’s review also underscored the honesty of the artist and his special talent for touching to the quick of pertinent political issues, as seen through themes of the body, intimacy and of what is taboo in today’s society.
Le Figaro emphasised excellent acting, stating that Avignon has been “illuminated” with great stage talent, especially that of the young Maciej Stuhr. The newspaper praised Stuhr for his precision and clarity.
Le Nouvel Observateur concluded that Poland’s director “with the looks of a senstitive dandy” has the Avignon festival at his heels, and it predicted the possibility of the piece becoming a future cult-performance. Le Figaro commented that Warsaw Cabaret is a very demanding, multi-dimensional work, thanks to numerous references and the touching acting. Les Echos laid emphasis on Warlikowski’s unparalleled talent for scene-cuts, stating that he sketched each sequence with a moving visual force, in a piece it has named “baroque and generous”. This, Les Echos concluded, is the genius of Warlikowski: to take the cabaret and turn it into a reflection of love, life and death.
Le Monde is the one French periodical somewhat less enthusiastic about the new productiion. According the paper, the festival awaited Warlikowski’s return “like a Messiah” and in the face of this expectation, the piece was disappointing. In spite of an interesting concept for the performance, the way in which it was realised proved to be too direct, according to the journal. Le Monde did, however, appreciate Małgorzata Szczęśniak’s stage design as minimalist and very refined, and the actors - "as always with Warlikowski" - who were "wonderful and incredible". Le Monde described Andrzej Chyra as an actor of unmatched power, Magdalena Cielecka as “divinely decadent”and Jacek Poniedziałek is said by Le Monde to have delivered the audience truly affecting moments of emotion.
While working on Warsaw Cabaret, the Nowy Teatr company confronted numerous scripts of subjugation. The performance conveys a group of artists for whom art is the main means of operating - but it does not appear to be grateful for that. Quite to the contrary, it gets the artists lost, and while making life bearable and possible for them, it simultaneously also renders it impossible and poisons it with doubt. While creating a therapeutic space for freeing anxieties and taboos, Warlikowski observantly portrays the jeopardy and oppression that are automatically generated within these kinds of groups.
In an interview with Odile Quirot for the French bibliobs.nouvelobs.com, Warlikowski explained his choice of the cabaret, of which, according to him, everyone has their own idea and image:
So, what interests me is that no one knows exactly what the cabaret is. This word carries an imaginary with it. It allows me to make a huge ellipse with respect to the traditional narration [...] This word cabaret gives me great liberty. It's also a place, which is in a way a character in my performance.
In the interview, the director gives insight into his highly critical judgement of Poland today, where he has lived and worked with the core group of actors for the past 25 years. Warsaw Cabaret, in which Warlikowski is in a way reviewing what the Polish mentality has become, seems to also draw much inspiration from this critical stance:
On the one hand we have never been freed of the traumatic experience of war, and on the other hand, when we couldn't travel during the communist period, we always aspired to America.
When in the first part we hear Nazi artistocrats in discussion, we could believe it to be a sophisticated evening in today’s Poland, where all of a sudden there is talk of Wagner, only to end inevitably in a talk about Jews.
Every three months, Poland is shaken by the discovery of a well-guarded secret of its history. Homophobia has become apparent, because before, homosexuals would hide. Recently, it was refused that a project concerning gay marriages even be put under discussion. In this very Catholic country, the relationship with the body is made impossible from childhood, and from elementary school we are taught an official religion.
In a profoundly Catholic and conservative Poland, I wanted to say how much we are all human, in spite of the differences in sexuality. What is political about this piece is the body, the intimate, the human and his liberty. Whether it’s the old political system, or the rule of those who erect a model for money and the economy, all of the systems only work towards reducing human beings to slavery.
Thus far, Polish audiences were able to see the performance only at the 2013 Open’er Festival in Gdynia, with the Warsaw premiere scheduled for September 2013. Following the showings in Avignon, Warsaw Cabaret will be staged at Le Theatre de la Place in Liege, Belgium.
The Avignon Festival is a co-producer of Warsaw Cabaret, along with the Polish National Audiovisual Institute NInA, which is planning to documentation the performance. The recordings are then to be make available on the Internet through the Institute’s streaming channel, and form part of the Ninateka archive. There is also talk of creating a DVD documenting the piece.
Paulina Schlosser, source: bibliobs.nouvelobs.com, PAP, culture.pl, 25.07.2013