The French – Krzysztof Warlikowski
The French is Krzysztof Warlikowski‘s theatrical expedition in search of the roots of present-day European mentality and identity. It was without doubt one of the most anticipated premieres in 2015 theatrical season.
Its starting point is Marcel Proust‘s monumental novel In Search of Lost Time, which depicts a society in upheaval, shaken by the erosion of the old hierarchy, rampant antisemitism, and, above all, the outbreak of the Great War. Channeling Gilles Deleuze‘s remark that 'the only dead who return are those whom one buried too quickly and too deeply', Warlikowski invokes Proust to reflect on the condition of today‘s Europe, ironically encapsulated by the French people of a hundred years ago, which explains the play‘s thought-provoking title.
We eagerly engage in economics and politics, which undergo regular waves of crises, whereas our efforts should focus on what kind of humanity we further for the following generations.
– stated Warlikowski during rehearsals open to the media.
Piotr Gruszczyński, a dramaturg involved in writing the text, admitted that our knowledge about Proust’s life was equally important in adapting the novel for the stage.
A Frenchman born to Jewish mother, a homosexual who spends whole his life hiding these facts. At the same time, he tackles the greatest scandals of his epoch such as the Dreyfus Affair, which he uses as a background for his novel. What’s important is the very quality of Proust’s prose and its translation by Boy-Żeleński, and the weight of the message that this text conveys. We are aware that it is inappropriate to speak of ‘staging’ Proust as this is a voluminous novel. This performance is rather Krzysztof Warlikowski’s personal insight into Proustian matter.
Maja Ostaszewska also believes that the play is a kind of personal impression, an original version of the masterpiece:
Krzysztof is an ingenious artist with a theatrical expressive language, a way of perceiving the times we live in and a way of reading literature. What surprised us was how much the topics described in this novel again became painfully relevant – how much the fears of that old Europe have become our fears. Today's Europe is shaken to the foundations by the fear of otherness and inevitable changes of the status quo. Europe leans towards the right.
The performance has been well-received by the Warsaw audience and theatre critics.
According to Jack Wakara, Warlikowski studies the salon with cruel irony, and the actors marvellously imitate the poses and gestures of bored socialites:
The artists move back and forth the seven volumes of Proust’s text like a chess knight, with little randomness. They select threads, scenes, images, or mere reflections with great precision. The almost five-hour-long evening does not give, of course, the impression of communing with the thoroughness of the masterpiece, but allows you to sample it. It is arrested in long theatrical moments, a dreamlike kaleidoscope broken into sequences that are indulgently celebrated, chronicling the fall of the aristocracy portrayed by the French writer. Except that Warlikowski is not interested in the past and today's class divisions. In his view, the salon is a state of mind rather than a rung on the social ladder.
– stated Joanna Tokarska-Bakir in her text attached to the theatrical brochure.
In Gazeta Wyborcza Witold Mrozek compares The French with the latest productions by Krystian Lupa:
Warlikowski allows himself a certain uninhibitedness and lets the action unfold slowly. From the salon’s ‘lack of action’ emerge images of startling temperature. (...) Warlikowski reads Proust's work not only as an elegy for Europe, but also as a treatise on loneliness.
In Polityka Aneta Kyzioł observed that Warlikowski’s performance has everything you should expect from a high-budget action-drama destined for the international market.
From exquisite stage design, through the fashionable combining of genres (not only singing and dancing but also a concert of Paweł Mykietyn’s composition for cello and tape played by Michał Pepol), and great acting. The scenes of jealousy performed by Mariusz Bonaszewski (Swann) and Maja Ostaszewska (Odeta), are masterful, but in fact everyone is fantastic.
The performance, which had its world premiere at the German Ruhrtriennale, was been well-received by German audience. The dramaturg of the festival Vasco Boenish admitted that Warlikowski’s approach to making theatre is truly unique. "We do not have a director in Germany who would employ such aesthetics and precision", he stated in an interview for Eurokultura". "I haven’t experienced anything like that at theatre for a long time," declared Dorothea Marcus after the performance. According to the journalist, The French is an epitaph for Europe.
Despite the chronology of Proust’s seven volumes not being preserved, Warlikowski manages to create the narrative by selecting the most famous scenes in which the actors give remarkable show of skills. (...) Above it all hovers a melancholic, plaintive tone, a diagnosis of the apocalypse, an epitaph for Europe, which retires into its shell, gets older, degenerates, is exhausted and can no longer enjoy its wealth. Such a statement would hold true provided Warlikowski hadn’t have celebrated what constitutes the essence of Europe: the arts.
Source: PAP, TVP Kultura, Gazeta Prawna, Polityka, Gazeta Wyborcza, compiled by A. Legierska, ed.&transl.GS, Oct 2015Culture.pl