An exceptional theatre actress, stage director, democratic opposition activist from the 1970s and member of the Komitet Obrony Robotników [Workers Defense Committee].
An exceptional theatre actress, stage director, democratic opposition activist from the 1970s on and member of the Workers Defense Committee (Komitet Obrony Robotników)
An exceptional theatre actress, stage director, democratic opposition activist from the 1970s on and member of the Workers Defense Committee (Komitet Obrony Robotników). Wife of the writer Marian Brandys. Born on 22 March 1925 in Kraków; died 21 June 1989 in Warsaw.
During Germany's World War II occupation of Poland, Mikołajska was a member of the Kraków-based Underground Theatre led by Adam Mularczyk. After the war, in the years 1945-1946, she studied chemistry at Jagiellonian University. She soon abandoned the university to devote herself to her passion - theatre. For while she was at university, she simultaneously studied at the State Drama School affiliated with the Stary Teatr / Old Theatre in Krakow, which she completed in 1947. While still a student, she had a successful debut on the professional stage. In 1946, at the Stary Teatr, she was cast as Euridice in Anna Świrszczyńska's Orfeusz / Orpheus directed by Władysław Woźnik. Following this successful debut, where the young actress's vast lyrical potential was noticed, Mikołajska joined the Dramatic Theatres in Krakow. While there, she offered a number of very interesting performances, playing Desdemona in Shakespeare's Othello as staged by Józef Karbowski (Stary Teatr, 1947), Nathalie in Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz's Maskarada / Masquerade directed by Karol Frycz (Słowacki Theatre, 1949). She played the title role in Irena Babel's staging of Charles Peyret-Chappuis' Judyta / Judith (Stary Teatr, 1949) and portrayed Irina in Chekhov's The Three Sisters in an excellent staging directed by Bronisław Dąbrowski (Slowacki Theatre, 1949).
"From this moment," wrote Jan Paweł Gawlik of Mikołajska's performances, "simplification every closer to psychological synthesis and psychological stylization would combine in her acting with subtle suggestion to create a singular lyrical and pastel texture of this play" (J.P. Gawlik, "Twarze teatru" / "Faces of the Theatre," Warsaw, 1963).
In 1949 Mikołajska also offered a well-received performance as Ruth in Leon Kruczkowski's Niemcy / The Germans directed by Maryna Broniewska on the stage of the Teatr Kameralny / Chamber Theatre in Wrocław.
In 1950 the actress relocated to Warsaw. She initially joined the ensemble of the Teatr Polski / Polish Theatre managed by Bronisław Dąbrowski. While there she portrayed Varia in Vsevolod Ivanov's Pociąg pancerny / The Armored Train directed by the ensemble led by Leon Schiller (1952) and Diana in Kazimierz Brandys' Sprawiedliwi ludzie / Just People as staged by Aleksander Bardini (1953). She also offered two great dramatic performances, as Amelia in Juliusz Słowacki's Horsztyński directed by Edmund Wierciński (1953) and Ethel in another of Bardini's stagings - the propaganda play Juliusz i Ethel / Julius and Ethel by Leon Kruczkowski (1954). Mikołajska invested a lot of passion in developing her skills, worked on deepening her acting talent, her performances gained maturity, gravitas, gaining drama and losing lyricism. Critics wrote of her characters that they were marked by both sensitivity, spontaneity, as well as deep wisdom, and the actress herself had a strong awareness of her existence on stage. Thanks to skillfully drawn dramatic rifts in the psychologies of the characters she played and detailed analysis of the inner workings of her characters, her performances became increasingly clearer while at once more layered, often truly tragic, yet never marked by excess pathos, created in an unmannered way and without overacting.
In 1955 Mikołajska signed on with the Teatr Domu Wojska Polskiego / Polish Army Home Theatre, newly opened at the Palace of Culture and Science. The institution was renamed the Teatr Dramatyczny / Dramatic Theatre in 1957. This was a wonderful period in her acting career on the stage of an important Polish theatre. Mikołajska created a number of exceptional roles that she played with fire and intelligence, passionately and simultaneously with perspective allowing her to penetrate deep into the emotions of her heroines and appropriately underline the meaning of the dramas in which she appeared.
Whether weak, broken, lost, or strong and domineering, the artist granted her characters a singular ambiguity, rendering relative the concepts of defeat and victory, emphasizing he deeper, more human though simultaneously less obvious psychological circumstances, wrote Maciej Karpiński ('Teatr' / 'Theatre' monthly, 1981, no. 23/24).
Critics also noted that Mikołajska's acting in some sense was similar to the achievements of Gustaw Holoubek. Primarily, they had in mind a manifestation on stage of her own personality, intelligence and sensitivity, investing roles with elements of her own individuality. Her first exceptional performances at the new theatre came as characters from opposite poles of the dramatic world - a very original, brimming with passion and sensitivity Rachel in Stanisław Wyspiański's Wesele / The Wedding directed by Maryna Broniewska and Jan Świderski (1955), and an unusually suggestive, dual role of the lyrical Shen-Te and the brutal Shui-Ta in Bertolt Brecht's The Good Man of Szechuan as staged by Ludwik René (1956), and the figure of the Old Woman in Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs (1957), another production directed by René. Mikołajska and her counterpart in the role of the Old Man, Jan Świderski, demonstrated true acting virtuosity in bringing out the grotesque tone of the piece. The actress created a total of ten roles at the Dramatic Theatre, the other not mentioned yet including Katarzyna in Maciej Słomczyński's Samotność / Solitude (1956) and Margit in Jerzy Broszkiewicz's Imiona Władzy / The Names of Power (1957) - both productions directed by Lidia Zamkow, as well as Elisabeth Proctor in Arthur Miller's The Salem Witch Trial (1959) and Katarzyna in Jean-Paul Sartre's Diabeł i Pan Bóg / The Devil and the Lord - both productions directed by Ludwik René. Yet not all of the actress's roles met with an enthusiastic reaction. Her portrayals of the title character in Jean Anouilh's Antigone (dir. Jerzy Rakowiecki, 1958), Joanna in Christopher Fry's Szkoda tej czarownicy na stos / Shame to Burn that Witch at the Stake (dir. René, 1958) and Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth (dir. Bohdan Korzeniewski, 1960) were deemed excessively theatrical and contrived. The situation changed with the title role in Euripides' Medea directed by Jerzy Markuszewski (1962), the final character portrayed on stage by the actress on the stage of the Dramatic Theatre.
Halina Mikołajska played Medea beautifully," wrote August Grodzicki, "focused more on grief than in the force of hatred, discrete in her acing and in the use of her voice, moving in her pain and repulsive in her crime. She reminded us all that she is an extremely talented actress ('Życie Warszawy', 1962, no. 16).
Mikołajska also made her directing debut at the Dramatic Theatre. In 1957 she mounted a very good staging of Iwona, księżniczka Burgunda / Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy by Witold Gombrowicz, an author for whom this was the first Polish production of a play of his. Later, working with Andrzej Sadowski, she successfully staged Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Romulus Wielki / Romulus the Great (1959). Mikołajska was very good at directing actors. Barbara Krafftówna as Yvonne and Jan Świderski as Romulus both created excellent, flagship characterizations in Mikołajska's productions.
In 1963 the actress became associated with the Teatr Współczesny / Contemporary Theatre managed by Erwin Axer and with the Teatr Narodowy / National Theatre. She continued to appear in plays from the classical repertoire, in productions directed by Kazimierz Dejmek at the National Theatre. She was Cassandra in Aeschylus' Agamemnon (1963) and Laura in Słowacki's Kordian (1965), as well as Elizabeth in Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart directed by Axer at the Contemporary Theatre (1969). At this acting-focused theatre managed by Axer, Mikołajska also portrayed Anna in Harold Pinter's Old Times (dir. Axer, 1972) and Yse in Paul Claudel's Punkt przecięcia / Cutting Point (dir. Jerzy Kreczmar, 1973). She returned to Chekhov, playing Olga in The Three Sisters (dir. Axer, 1963) and Ranevska in The Cherry Orchard (dir. Maciej Prus, 1976). She offered a very suggestive performance as Gunhilde in Henry Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman directed by Bardini (1975). Wonderfully, ably playing with conventions, she proved capable of handling the writing of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz as Duchess Alice of Nevermore in the writer's Kurka wodna / The Water Hen (dir. Wanda Laskowska, National Theatre, 1964) and the title character in Matka / The Mother (dir. Axer, Contemporary Theatre, 1970).
From 1953-1962 Mikołajska was a lecturer at the State Higher School of Theatre in Warsaw. She also played a number of smaller roles in film, portraying the Jewess in the film adaptation of Zofia Nałkowska's short story Przy torze kolejowym / Along the Raildroad Tracks (dir. Andrzej Baranowski, 1963) and the Aunt in Krzysztof Zanussi's Życie rodzinne / Family Life (1970). She appeared in more than a dozen Television Theatre productions, playing Phaedra in Jean Racine's tragedy of the same title as directed by Maryna Broniewska (1967), Tethidides in Euripides' Andromache directed by Jan Maciejowski (1970), Rose in Maria Kuncewiczowa's Cudzoziemka / The Foreigner directed by Jan Kulczyński (1970) and George Sand in Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz's Lato w Nohant / Summer at Nohant as staged by Olga Lipińska (1972).
In the 1970s Mikołajska became an active member of the democratic opposition in Poland. In 1975 she was among the signatories of the Memoriał 59 / Memorial of the 59 (59 intellectuals), a letter of protest against the changes planned by authorities in the Constitution. A year later she placed her signature on an appeal in defense of the workers arrested and put on trial for publicly protesting in the city of Radom. She subsequently traveled to Radom to attend their trials, joined the Workers Defense Committee, provided assistance to the persecuted. She herself faced persecution as a result, she was threatened and was stripped of the right to practice her profession. In 1976 she survived a suicide attempt. She underlined that politics did not exceedingly interest her, but that she could no longer passively observe the moral wrongs being done, pretend that she did not notice certain things, because that would denote her consent to the current state of affairs. She realized that to date she had in some way been part of the system, the authorities have rewarded and celebrated her.
Awards and banquets, perhaps not hosted by Goebbels, but hosted by Bierut, Sokorski, Cyrankiewicz (...) I am a piece of a certain disgusting monopoly, a propaganda monopoly" (after M. Grochowska, "Gazeta Wyborcza. Duży Format, 19.09.2006).
She was among those actors who were blacklisted, she could not find employment in radio or television, and later also in theatre. She actually parted with the stage in 1976. In order to refrain from harming her colleagues, she wanted to leave the Contemporary Theatre, but Erwin Axer refused to allow it. Yet from that year through 1981 she did not perform on the professional dramatic stage. On the night of the 13/14 December 1981, she was taken into custody and interned, initially at Jaworz, then in Gołdapia and Darłówek. While in the internment camps, she would mount poetry recitations for her fellow inmates. She was ultimately released after some of her colleagues intervened with the authorities, among them, Zbigniew Raszewski and Kazimierz Dejmek. She hardly disappeared as an actress in the 1980s, but worked within the realm of independent, non-institutionalized culture. She travelled throughout Poland, reciting poetry and performing one-woman plays, performing in private homes and churches. She recited the poetry of Czesław Miłosz and Karol Wojtyła, presented one-woman shows like Historie Jakubowe / Jacob's Stories based on Thomas Mann, a selection of monologues from Euripides' Medea, Marianic poetry from the Maryjny tryptyk staropolski / Old Polish Marianic Triptych, and the last one-woman production she mounted, Śmierć Cwietajewej / Cvetayeva's Death, which strongly linked into the personal experience of the artist, who by this time was terminally ill.
Be faithful Go' - Herbert's most famous sentence, a kind of coda to 'The Envoy of Mr. Cogito' - could be her life motto," wrote Tomasz Mościcki of the actress. "Her exceptional and tragic life was a reflection of and living actualization of this command. Unwilling to compromise on artistic and moral issues, she passed away a symbol of steadfastness ('Życie' daily, 22.06.2004).
In 1976 she appeared on stage at the Contemporary as Ranevska in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, after which made no stage appearances for the subsequent five years. In 1981, shortly before being interned during Martial Law, she could be seen in Ibsen's The Ghosts, in a production in which she portrayed Helena Alving (directed by Prus and Axer). When in 1982, after being released, Mikołajska stepped onto the stage of the Polish Theatre in Warsaw as Hestia in Wyspiański's Wyzwolenie / Liberation, a production directed by Kazimierz Dejmek, she received a very warm welcome from the audience, which gave her a standing ovation of several minutes the instant she appeared on the stage. She was greeted not as an actress, but as a heroine, a symbol of resistance against the authorities who had imposed Martial Law. It was in this way that audience members praised her for her heroic life choice. Her last theatrical performance on an institutional stage was also at the Polish Theatre as Maria Schwartz in Ireneusz Iredyński's Terroryści / The Terrorists in a production directed by Jan Bratkowski (1982). In the 1980s viewers were treated to two of Mikołajska's excellent performances in Television Theatre. The actress portrayed Magdalena Bejart in Mikhail Bulgakov's Molier, czyli zmowa świętoszków / Moliere, or the Cabal of Hypocrites directed by Maciej Wojtyszko (1981). Yet censors closed down this production of Moliere... after only one performance. In 1989 censors finally allowed for the broadcasting of Luigi Pirandello's Żywa maska / Living Mask, a Television Theatre production directed by Maciej Prus that was recorded in 1975. The actress was able to see herself in the role of the Margrabine in this production just a few days before her death. While hospitalized and shortly before passing away, on 4 June 1989, she cast her vote in Poland's first free election since World War II. She died on 21 June.
Awards and distinctions:
- 1951 - State Award, 2nd class (ensemble award), for her performance as Anna in a production of Stefan Żeromski's Grzech / Sin directed by Bohdan Korzeniewski at the Polish Theatre in Warsaw
- 1954 - Cavalier's Cross of the Order of the Restitution of Poland
- 1955 - State Award, 2nd class (ensemble award), in theatre for her performance as Ethel in a production of Leon Kruczkowski's Juliusz i Ethel / Julius and Ethel directed by Aleksander Bardini at the Polish Theatre in Warsaw
- 1958 - Award of the State Radio and Television Committee for her performance as Varvara in the radio play Biedni ludzie / Poor People based on the prose of Fyodor Dostoevsky
- 1963 - Officer's Cross of the Order of the Restitution of Poland
- 1967 - Polish Millennium Badge
- 1970 - Golden Screen Award for the best female performances in a series of Television Theatre production, including the role of Tethidides in Euripides' Andromache directed by Jan Maciejowski, the role of Rose in Maria Kuncewiczowa's Cudzoziemka / The Foreigner directed by Jan Kulczyński, for her performance in Valde van Jakob's Duża sala / Grand Hall directed by Aleksander Bardini, and for her performance as Anastasia in Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz's W małym dworku / In a Small Manor House directed by Zygmunt Hübner
- 1971 - Award of the State Radio and Television Committee for the year 1970 for her performances in a series of Television Theatre productions
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, December 2006