A ‘Massacre’, ‘The Kingdom’ & ‘Nothing’: What’s New in Polish Theatre in 2019
default, A ‘Massacre’, ‘The Kingdom’ & ‘Nothing’: What’s New in
Polish Theatre in 2019, A scene from the play ‘Widnokrąg’ (Horizon), directed by Michał Kotański, Żeromski Theatre in Kielce, 2019. Photo: Krzysztof Bieliński / Żeromski Thea, center, widnokrag-michal-kotanskitz-kielce.jpg
Want to know what’s happening on stage in Poland right now? Culture.pl’s got you covered. This year, the second half of the theatre season has seen adaptations of literary and film masterpieces, a visit from Peter Stein and presentations of new Polish work in Germany.
A strong start
On 9th January, a Massacre took place at Warsaw’s Nowy Theatre. Under this mysterious and bold title, Paweł Sakowicz presented a play about the colonial roots of popular Latin American ballroom dances. Massacre is headlined by several women artists: Karolina Kraczkowska, Agnieszka Kryst, Ramona Nagabczyńska and Iza Szostak.
In Gardens, Basements & Crowded Flats: Polish Performing Arts in 2018
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A photograph promoting the play ‘Massacre’, directed by Paweł Sakowicz. Photo: Nowy Theatre in Warsaw / nowyteatr.org
Michał Kotański, the head of Kielce’s Stefan Żeromski Theatre, took on the challenge of staging Wiesław Myśliwski’s Widnokrąg (The Horizon). Radosław Paczocha prepared the script for this adaptation of a novel by the first laureate of the Nike Literary Award, and the music was composed by Lubomir Grzelak. The artists considered Widnokrąg to be ‘one of the most beautiful works about the countryside’. The play premiered on 6th January.
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Photo from the play ‘Widnokrąg’, directed by Michał Kotański, Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Kielce, 2019, photo: Krzysztof Bieliński / Żeromski Theatre in Kielce
Discomfort in Częstochowa, Augustynowicz liberates
On 12th January, the eyes of Polish theatre enthusiasts turned towards Częstochowa – a city less than obvious as a theatre destination. There, Magdalena Piekorz, the head of the city’s Adam Mickiewicz Theatre, directed an adaptation of the famous American novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (In 1969, Sydney Pollack adapted this book into his legendary film starring Jane Fonda, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role.)
Drowsiness - Magdalena Piekorz
For her staging of the exhausting dance marathon, the director of the sensational film The Welts (itself an adaptation of Wojciech Kuczok’s novel Gnój [Muck]) engaged an actual big band, the Five O’Clock Orchestra. Piekorz says of her play that she ‘didn’t want the audience to feel completely comfortable sitting in their theatre seats’.
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Photo from a rehearsal of Stanisław Wyspiański’s ‘Wyzwolenie’, directed by Anna Augustynowicz, Polski Theatre in Warsaw, 2019, photo: Katarzyna Chmura-Cegiełkowska
Meanwhile, the seasoned director Anna Augustynowicz has returned to Stanisław Wyspiański’s Wyzwolenie (Liberation) after 15 years. She has prepared this, her second adaptation of the masterpiece of Polish drama at Warsaw’s Polski Theatre. The artistic director of the Współczesny Theatre in Szczecin wished for the new staging to engage in a conversation with her previous version – and to show the changes which have occurred in Polish society over those years. The premiere took place on 29th January.
Parasites – Anna Augustynowicz
From screen to stage
It is definitely worth it to visit Kraków to see The Kingdom – an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s famous TV show. The director, Remigiusz Brzyk, prepared his staging on the basis of Tomasz Śpiewak’s screenplay. In the Danish original, The Kingdom is a state-owned hospital built upon a former swamp. In the Kraków adaptation, it is the building of the Stary Theatre that serves as the mysterious and haunted site. Brzyk invited a plethora of stars to perform in his play, including Anna Dymna, Elżbieta Karkoszka, Krzysztof Globisz, Roman Gancarczyk and Radosław Krzyżowski. The Kingdom premiered on 9th February.
Von Trier’s work will also serve as an inspiration for Agnieszka Lipiec-Wróblewska, who will stage the award-winning Breaking the Waves at the Śląski Theatre in Katowice. According to the announcement, Lipiec-Wróblewska confronts the boundaries of humanity and 'normality' in this work, which premiered on 2nd March.
Behind the Curtain: Contemporary Polish Stage Design
The famous film Psychosis, directed by Alfred Hitchock, was adapted into a play by Tomasz Węgorzewski. The staging is a cooperation between the Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Kielce and Nowy Theatre in Warsaw. This classic American movie is considered one of the best movies of all time. But will it work on stage? Węgorzewski’s attempt to answer this very question premiered on 27th April in Kielce and 8th May in Warsaw.
Lupa on Capri, Borczuch in a forest
The second half of the season will bring us some more promising adaptations of literary works. Capri – Wyspa Uciekinierów (Capri – The Island of Fugitives), a new play by Krystian Lupa, is without question the most anticipated theatre work of this year. Many theatre enthusiasts will visit Warsaw’s Powszechny Theatre on 15th June to attend a work-in-progress showing.
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Pictures from a rehearsal of the play ‘Capri – Wyspa Uciekinierów’, directed by Krystian Lupa, photo: Magda Hueckel / Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw
Lupa prepared the screenplay on the basis of Kaputt and The Skin by Curzio Malaparte, the Italian writer and diplomat. These two novels provide a brutal portrayal of the wartime landscape of the 20th century. As Lupa stressed in an interview with the website Onet.pl:
Over the centuries, the titular island gathered various personalities from political, cultural and artistic circles. There, the ideas influencing the future of the world were created – and these were not always harmless.
Together with some of the stars of the Powszechny Theatre – Ewa Skibiśka, Anna Ilczuk and Julia Wyszyńska –these well-known ‘Lupa actors’ will perform: Halina Rasiakówna, Monika Niemczyk, Piotr Skiba and Wojciech Ziemiański.
Krystian Lupa's Cast on the Dynamics of the Waiting Room
Michał Borczuch’s next play is inspired by a classic collection of essays written by the American writer-philosopher Henry David Thoreau, as well as the films of Krzysztof Kieślowski. Kino Moralnego Niepokoju (The Cinema of Moral Anxiety) was created in the wake of the director’s decision to live alone in a forest. Walden, one of the most important works with an ecological message and a record of an experiment, seems the perfect material for Borczuch, who shies away from traditionally understood stories. The play premiered on 25th April at Nowy Theatre in Warsaw.
Design in Gniezno, Eco in Kraków
Meanwhile, at the Fredro Theatre in Gniezno, Magda Szpecht has presented her adaptation of the novels Rzeczy, Których Nie Wyrzuciłem (Things I Didn’t Throw Away) and Jak Przestałem Kochać Design (How I Stopped Loving Design). Both books were written by Marcin Wicha, the laureate of the 2018 Nike Literary Award. Famous for her interest in the non-human, Szpecht, together with the playwright Łukasz Wojtyska, examines the nature of objects in her latest work. (The director even worked with Wicha’s writings even earlier, when she was a resident of the 7th Festival of Documentary Theatre Sopot Non-Fiction.) The play premiered on 1st February.
The very same day also saw the premiere of Radosław Rychcik’s newest production. At Kraków’s Słowackiego Theatre, the director prepared an adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, a masterpiece of contemporary prose. The classic work of Italian literature is the next to become subject to Rychcik’s authorial interpretation, as he is already known for his original and sometimes controversial readings of the most important Polish dramas (such as Forefathers' Eve, The Wedding and Wyzwolenie).
Adam Mickiewicz's Forefathers' Eve - Jerzy Grotowski
Masłowska on stage
This season brought also two adaptations of Dorota Masłowska’s work. This March saw a staging of her Snow White and Russian Red at the Słowackiego Theatre, directed by Paweł Świątek. This is yet another meeting between Świątek and the novels of Masłowska, as he previously prepared a performance of The Queen’s Paw, which was welcomed by the Kraków audience very warmly. The staging of Masłowska’s sensational debut (the writer was 18 at the time of publication) seems to have repeated this success.
In Warsaw, Grzegorz Jarzyna staged Inni Ludzie (Other People), the newest book of the two-time recipient of the Nike Literary Award. His work on the play began with performative readings involving the audience which took place in the building of the TR Warszawa theatre and on Defilad Square. The show is the ‘first musical in Grzegorz Jarzyna’s artistic career’ and was created as a collaborative work involving the actors of TR Warszawa, composers, Warsaw hip-hop artists, video creators and costume designers. It premiered on 15th March.
The new and the classic
At Warsaw’s Narodowy Theatre, Grzegorz Chrapkiewicz prepared a staging of Ironbound, which was written by Martyna Majok – a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. According to the head of the theatre, Jan Englert, ‘it is a play about a woman who as a Polish immigrant in the United States has to make the harshest of compromises to support her family’. A dark comedy, Ironbound is inspired by the life of the Bytom-born author’s mother. Its first Polish performances took place in March.
An Interview with Martyna Majok
What’s more, Michał Zadara will take on one of the most famous dramas about love. His interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet will be one of the last plays of the season when it premieres on 6th June at the Studio Theatre in Warsaw. Interestingly, it will be Zadara’s first staging of Shakespeare. The director will focus on experimental forms, but the show also aims at ‘reaching towards a wider audience’.
Kraków will also bring us… Nothing. Under this mysterious title, Krzysztof Garbaczewski will present his new play, thus joining many other directors returning to the Stary Theatre. The premiere took place at the end of March and resulted in a combination of the living presence and technology, similarly to his Poczet Królów Polskich (Gallery of Polish Kings – which was found controversial not only by the Kraków audience.
The second half of the season saw also the premieres from Polish artists working across Poland’s western border. On 25th January the audience of Theater Freiburg saw the premiere of St. Bartholomew’s Night under the direction of Ewelina Marciniak, with set design by Anna Królikiewicz (a painter, sculptor, author of installations and a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańśk) and music by Jan Duszyński. This adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s novel, which deals with the massacre of Huguenots, is the next of Marciniak’s stagings in Freiburg, following A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
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In Staatstheater Hannover, Łukasz Twardowski, working with the playwright Marcin Cecko, prepared a play called Once Upon a Time… Life, which shares a name with the 1980s French animation series that inspired it. The artists wanted to discuss changes in the perception and understanding of human biology over the years, also finding inspiration in the newest achievements of biotechnology. The play, featuring choreography by Paweł Sakowicz, premiered on 23rd February.
On 29th June, Krzysztof Warlikowski’s Salome will premiere in Munich. The one-act opera by Richard Strauss, presented at the Bayerische Staatsoper, will see set design by Małgorzata Szczęśniak, while choreography by Claude Bardouil and lighting design by Felice Ross. The opera will be conducted by Kirill Petrenko, the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.
Phenomenon? The Operatic productions of Mariusz Treliński and Krzysztof Warlikowski
Warsaw was also visited by the German director Peter Stein, who attempted to stage Aleksander Pushkin’s Boris Godunov at the Polski Theatre. According to the announcement, it was ‘the biggest and the most demanding artistic production on the Polish theatrical stage in the last 30 years’. Rehearsals for this international project started in March, while the premiere took place on 24th May.
Women direct opera
Two opera premieres are also being prepared by Agnieszka Glińska and Natalia Korczakowska. As part of the Year of Stanisław Moniuszko proclaimed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland, the Wielki Theatre of the Narodowa Opera will invite its audience to Glińska’s staging of Halka. The artist will work with the first, two-act version of the Polish national opera, which was written in Vilnius. The premiere is scheduled for 8th June.
A week later, Defilad Square will become a home for the first outdoors performance of the esteemed Madame Butterfly by Puccini, with Aleksandra Kurzak playing the leading role. Korczakowska, as director, also invited the tenor Roberto Alagna and the baritone Andrzej Dobber to sing in the opera. The Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra and the Choir of the National Philharmonic will be conducted by Marcello Mottadelli.
Live Global Stream for Major New Production by Polish National Opera
Originally written in Polish by Marcelina Obarska, Jan 2019; translated by MW, May 2019