Najsłynniejszy polski teatrzyk literacko-rewiowy okresu dwudziestolecia międzywojennego.
For the twelve years of its existence, Qui Pro Quo featured the greatest figures of Polish theatre. It was located in the basement of the now-defunct Luxenburg Gallery at 29 Senatorska Street. It was founded by Leszek Przyłuski (later known as a stage and film actor Lech Owron), architect Tadeusz Sobocki (who designed the reconstruction of the gallery's basement), and Izydor Weisblatt, a merchant. In 1921 journalist, composer and director Jerzy Boczkowski and Seweryn Majde became the owners of the theatre. They led Qui Pro Quo until its liquidation.
The citizens of Warsaw called the theatre their ‘dear old shack’. It quickly became the most important pre-war cabaret, distinguishing itself with the highest level of performances. It was unique – perhaps even on a European scale – because it gathered the most prominent poets of that time, including one of Poland's most important writers, Julian Tuwim, who signed his skits, songs, and the librettos of mini-operettas with various pseudonyms: Ślaz, Roch Pekiński, Jan Wim, Nikko-Tin, Oldlen. In 1926, Marian Hemar, who came from Lviv, became the second pillar of the literary theatre. Soon the two poets were practically the sole providers of the repertoire. However, they were not the only ones who created the legend of this stage. Konrad Tom was another author of Qui Pro Quo's texts. He was also active as a director and actor. In the first years of the theatre's existence, its programmes were also written by Andrzej Włast, who then decided to start his own career as a theatrical entrepreneur and opened the competitive Perskie Oko Theatre.
Therefore, Qui Pro Quo was a literary theatre controlled by the poets of the Skamander group: Jan Lechoń occasionally wrote for this stage, Antoni Słonimski authored some parts of the inaugural show, and Kazimierz Wierzyński participated in the creation of the repertoire as well.
The theatre gathered a selected group of composers, including Zygmunt Wiehler, Szymon Kataszek, and Jerzy Boczkowski, who himself wrote the music for many of its shows. It is probable that jazz was heard for the first time in Warsaw on Qui Pro Quo's stage, thanks to Jerzy Petersburski and Artur Gold, who led one of the first Polish orchestras which performed this very new musical genre. In the last period of the theatre's existence, Władysław Dan was an especially important composer. In 1930 he founded the Dan Choir, a famous band modelled after The Revellers. Mieczysław Fogg himself debuted in this choir.
During the twelve years of its existence, Qui Pro Quo gathered a selected group of actors, including such artists as Hanka Ordonówna, Mira Zimińska, Zula Pogorzelska, Zofia Terné, Stefcia Górska, Adolf Dymsza, Kazimierz Krukowski, Ludwik Lawiński, and Eugeniusz Bodo. Many of them started distinguished careers there. The theatre was also famous for its highest-level dance performances. The choreography was created by Eugeniusz Koszutski, Edward Wojnar, and two great celebrities of Polish dance: the legendary dancer and choreographer Feliks Parnell and Tacjanna Wysocka. The first Polish girl group originated from Qui Pro Quo. Tacjanna Wysocka's ballet performed on stage in a double role: as a typical revue group but also as a ballet of the highest artistic ambitions, performing dance compositions with music by Chopin, Grieg, Szymanowski, and Handel.
Qui Pro Quo had its own style of scenography, developed by Józef Galewski. The decorations were illusionary, often enriched with the latest achievements of artistic thought.
Feliks Parnell (Gladiator) in the Qui Pro Quo cabaret, 1927, photo from the archives of Tomasz Mościcki
Qui Pro Quo owes its position of the most famous theatre of pre-war Warsaw to Fryderyk Járosy, who came to the capital in 1924 for guest performances. At that time he was a member of the Blue Bird cabaret, established by a group of Russian emigrants. He appeared in Qui Pro Quo for the first time in the 1924/1925 season and soon became its main director. Járosy modernised the style of the Warsaw cabaret by combining elements of Paris revue, Russian ‘small form’ stages, Polish multiculturalism, and political satire into one coherent whole. Járosy also became a part of Qui Pro Quo's legend thanks to the witty way he conducted the show, and the inimitable style which he developed using his Polish language with a foreign accent.
Qui Pro Quo owed its fame to the excellent political satire. Although it was loyal to the government – its artists had a special fondness for Marshal Piłsudski – it certainly was not servile. Hence the frequent censorship interference in its theatrical programmes, as well as two attempts to liquidate the theatre, which was bothering the authorities.
Qui Pro Quo's stage was the place where popular hits, monologues, and satirical scenes were born, including pieces popularising ‘szmonces’ – Jewish humour (Kazimierz Krukowski and Ludwik Lawiński were the most important performers of these pieces). The parodies quickly became the speciality of the theatre. Operas and fashionable dances, as well as the most important figures of public life were parodied there.
Qui Pro Quo gathered a group of staunch viewers, frequenting the place was considered to be in a good taste, and friendship with the artists was a sign of social ennoblement and belonging to the elite of the pre-war Poland.
The theatre was continuously active for 12 years, which then was a record of longevity for this kind of theatre. During that time, Qui Pro Quo competed with other theatres, including the famous Morskie Oko. The main reason of its fall was the economic crisis, but the monstrous earnings of the theatre's stars were also rather problematic. Qui Pro Quo ended its activity on 30th June 1931 with a revue entitled Panie Ministrze (editor's translation: Mr Minister!). The theatre's legacy was its legend… and a gigantic debt of 770,000 pre-war złotys (for comparison, a luxury limousine cost about 12,000 zł). The spirit of Qui Pro Quo could, however, be found in other theatres: Banda, Cyrulik Warszawski, Tip Top, and Figaro. The latter's inauguration never took place, as it was scheduled for 2nd September 1939.
Post-war cabarets, such as Szpak, Wagabunda, and above all the famous Dudek (1965-1975) were the continuators of Qui Pro Quo's tradition.
The most important of the theatre's shows:
• Misja Jedzie (Mission's Coming, 1919),
• Minister z Warszawy (Minister of Warsaw – a travesty of The Inspector General by Nikolai Gogol, written by Julian Tuwim, 1920),
• Komisarz Policji (Police Commissioner – Oskar Mirbeau's comedy with Kazimierz Kamiński's performance, 1922),
• Rewia nr 1 (Revue No. 1, 1924),
• Hallo! Ciotka! (Hello! Aunt!, 1925),
• Karuzela (A Carousel, 1926),
• Precz z Sanacją (Scrap the Sanation, 1928),
• Rób Coś! (Do Something!, 1928, a revue written on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of independence),
• MSZ, Czyli Pamiętaj o Mnie (MSZ or Remember About Me, 1929),
• Dookoła Bartel (About Bartel, 1930),
• Gabinet Figur Wo(j)skowych (Wa(x/r) Museum, 1930),
• Zjazd Centrośmiechu (Centrelaugh Convention, 1930),
• Panie Ministrze! (Mr Minister!, 1931).
The biggest hits of the theatre:
• Gdy Zobaczysz Ciotkę Mą (When You See My Aunt, 1925),
• Gdy Petersburski z Goldem Gra (When Petersburski and Gold Play the Music, 1927),
• Marianna (1927),
• Kiedy Znów Zakwitną Białe Bzy (When Will the Lilac Bloom Again, 1927),
• Czy Pani Marta Jest Grzechu Warta (Is Mrs Marta Worth a Sin, 1928),
• Zapomniana Piosenka (A Forgotten Song, 1930),
• Jakieś Małe Nic (A Little Nothing, 1930),
• Nasza Jest Noc (The Night Is Ours, 1930),
• Co Nam Zostało z Tych Lat (All What We Got Left From Those Days, 1930),
• Sam Mi Mówiłeś (You Told Me Yourself, 1929),
• Piękny Gigolo (A Beautiful Gigolo, 1929),
• Księżyc nad Tahiti (Moon Over Tahiti, 1930),
• Nietoperze (Bats, 1930),
• Uliczka w Barcelonie (A Street in Barcelona, 1930),
• Pokoik na Hożej (A Little Room on Hoża Street, 1931),
• Chciałabym a Boję Się (I'd Like To, But I'm Afraid, 1931).
Originally written in Polish by Tomasz Mościcki, June 2010, translated by Marcin Gozdanek, Aug 2018.
All titles translated by the editor.