Polish Theatre in Warsaw
A theatre founded at the initiative of Arnold Szyfman, opened in 1913. It is housed at 2 Karasia Street, a building completed in 1912 to a design by Czesław Przybylski and fitted with what was then state-of-the-art equipment (Poland's first revolving stage). In the interwar period the Teatr Mały (Small Theatre) and Teatr Komedia (Comedy Theatre) operated as its branches. The theatre had a second venue in 1949-2001 - initially called the Teatr Kameralny, and later the Scena Kameralna (at 16 Foksal St.).
"...Warsaw desperately needed a theatre not just with a modern structure and stage equipment, but also modern artistic plans, especially in terms of production, directing, and decorative art, something completely unknown in Warsaw in those days," wrote the theatre's founder Arnold Szyfman. "Besides, the aim was to set up a theatre which would systematically cultivate a classic repertoire and foster audience interest in it. The general motto of the newly established theatre was: a work of art in the most perfect artistic form." (Arnold Szyfman, "Powstanie Teatru Polskiego. Teatr Polski w Warszawie 1913-1923" / "The Founding of the Teatr Polski. The Teatr Polski in Warsaw 1913-1923", Warszawa 1923, from: Edward Krasiński, "Teatr Polski w Warszawie 1913-1939" / "The Teatr Polski in Warsaw 1913-1939", Warszawa 1991)
The theatre was a private enterprise. Its repertoire featured Polish and foreign classics, contemporary drama, and popular plays. The first general manager, in 1912-1939, was Szyfman himself, who also ran the theatre in 1945-1949 and 1955-1957. The Teatr Polski gave its first performance in 1912 on tour in Russia. The inaugural premiere at its Warsaw headquarters took place in January 1913. It was Zygmunt Krasiński's IRYDION directed by Arnold Szyfman, with stage design by Karol Frycz. The title role was played by Józef Węgrzyn. In the interwar years the Teatr Polski was a synonym of modern artistic theatre. The greatest stage designers worked here, to mention Wincenty Drabik, Stanisław Śliwiński, Władysław Daszewski, and first and foremost Karol Frycz, the main creator of modern stage design in Poland. Directors included Karol Borowski, Aleksander Zelwerowicz, Aleksander Węgierko, and Leon Schiller whose projects at the Teatr Polski included an expressionist adaptation of Stefan Żeromski's DZIEJE GRZECHU / A STORY OF SIN (1926), Bertolt Brecht's THE THREEPENNY OPERA (1929), a series of monumental theatre productions - works by Juliusz Słowacki: SAMUEL ZBOROWSKI and one of several versions of KORDIAN (1935), a version of Adam Mickiewicz's DZIADY / FOREFATHERS' EVE (1934), and Shakespeare: JULIUS CAESAR (1928), A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1934), KING LEAR (1935). Polish Romantic repertoire and original interpretations of Shakespeare staged at the Teatr Polski by Szyfman (HAMLET, 1922, ROMEO AND JULIET, 1931) and by Ryszard Ordyński (HENRY IV, 1924), were among this theatre's greatest achievements. The theatre's renown was also due to productions of contemporary Polish drama. The theatre staged the world premieres of such plays as Karol Hubert Rostworowski's ZMARTWYCHWSTANIE / RESURRECTION directed by Karol Borowski (1922), Antoni Słonimski's WIEŻA BABEL / THE TOWER OF BABEL (1927) and Adolf Nowaczynski's WOJNA WOJNIE / WAR ON WAR (1927) - both directed by Schiller, as well as Zofia Nałkowska's DOM KOBIET / HOUSE OF WOMEN directed by Maria Przybyłko-Potocka (1930). Like no other theatre in Warsaw, the Teatr Polski also made an effort to stage contemporary foreign plays. It contributed especially strongly to popularising the works of George Bernard Shaw. Many great actors performed at the Teatr Polski.
"...the title of 'Szyfman's actor' was a synonym of the highest class. These actors developed a modern style of acting, less meticulous but more synthetic, they expertly mastered the flowing dialogue of contemporary plays, and were not afraid of expressiveness in classical repertoire, effortlessly shifting from graceful comic expression to poignant drama." (Stanisław Marczak-Oborski, "Teatr polski w latach 1918-1965. Teatry dramatyczne" / "Polish Theatre in 1918-1965. Drama Theatres", Warszawa 1985)
They included Kazimierz Junosza-Stępowski, Józef Węgrzyn, Aleksander Zelwerowicz, Jerzy Leszczyński, and from the younger generation: Janina Romanówna, Jan Kurnakowicz, and Jan Kreczmar.
During World War II the theatre was taken over by the Nazis and operated as the Theater der Stadt Warschau in 1940-1944. It was destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising. In 1945 the Teatr Polski was the first theatre to be nationalized in Poland. The following January, Juliusz Słowacki's LILLA WENEDA directed by Juliusz Osterwa, with Elżbieta Barszczewska in the title role, marked the inauguration of the theatre's post-war activity. It was managed by Arnold Szyfman in 1945-1957, and then Leon Schiller and Bronisław Dąbrowski. Directors included Edmund Wierciński, who produced works by Słowacki: FANTAZY (1948) and HORSZTYŃSKI (1953), Aleksander Bardini, who was the first to stage Mickiewicz's DZIADY / FOREFATHERS' EVE at the Teatr Polski after the war (1955) - with Ignacy Gogolewski and Stanisław Jasiukiewicz taking turns to play Gustaw-Konrad, Bronisław Dąbrowski: Nikolai Gogol's THE MARRIAGE (1952), LALKA / THE DOLL based on Boleslaw Prus (1952), and Bohdan Korzeniewski: George Bernard Shaw's SAINT JOAN (1956) and Molière's DON JUAN (1957). The ensemble included many great actors, to mention Elżbieta Barszczewska, Mieczysława Ćwiklińska, Jan Kreczmar, Karol Adwentowicz, Jan Ciecierski, Jacek Woszczerowicz. In the late 1950's and early 1960's the Teatr Polski was an academic theatre, one of the Polish capital's stately theatres remaining outside the latest drama trends and innovative formal solutions.
"The Teatr Polski managed by Szyfman (1955-1957) and then Stanisław W. Balicki (1957-1964) was sometimes reminiscent of the times of the 'star era', when an actor's individual personality predominated over the repertoire and the performances, which were staged sumptuously, magnificently and at full blaze, yet served to show off chiefly the protagonist. It also specialized in broad historical paintings where the poet's text was sometimes subordinated to an extensive academizing apparatus. This was the approach when staging Schiller's 'Don Carlos', Warsaw's first productions of Lermontov's 'The Masquerade' and Pushkin's 'Boris Godunov', the Polish premiere of Strindberg's 'Eric XIV'. ... The role of newer repertoire was filled by the more brilliant works of writers from the previous generation: Shaw, Garcia Lorca, Rolland, O'Neill, staged in the style of their time." (Stanisław Marczak-Oborski, "Teatr polski w latach 1918-1965. Teatry dramatyczne" / "Polish Theatre in 1918-1965. Drama Theatres", Warszawa 1985)
In 1964-1968 the theatre was managed by Jerzy Jasieński followed by Jerzy Kreczmar. The latter's projects directed at the Teatr Polski included Krasiński's IRYDION (1966) and Harold Pinter's THE BIRTHDAY PARTY (1966), Aleksander Fredro's PAN JOWIALSKI / MR. JOWIALSKI (1967) and Żeromski's SUŁKOWSKI (1968). Between 1968 and 1981 the theatre was run by Andrzej Krasicki and August Kowalczyk. Their first premiere was LILLA WENEDA directed by Kowalczyk (1968).
"This production immediately revealed the repertoire plans and production style," wrote Edward Krasiński, "great ambitions and titles, Polish and foreign classics, sumptuous productions, now and again brilliant roles noticed by reviewers, but mostly these productions were only just adequate, leaving audiences artistically unsatisfied, representing a degree of no more than craft. Great items of repertoire were seldom great events. ... The Teatr Polski quickly gained the reputation of an outdated 'house of classics' ..." ("Teatr Polski w Warszawie 1939-2002" / "The Teatr Polski in Warsaw 1939-2002", Warszawa 2002)
Shows written by Ernest Bryll were very popular among audiences: NA SZKLE MALOWANE / PAINTED ON GLASS directed by Kowalczyk, with music by Katarzyna Gaertner and stage design by Adam Kilian (1970), and RUMCAJS directed by Jan Skotnicki, and also Gabriela Zapolska's MORALNOŚĆ PANI DULSKIEJ / THE MORALITY OF MRS. DULSKA directed by Krystyna Meissner (1973). The greatest "scandal" was Goethe's FAUST staged by Józef Szajna (1971). The theatre's Scena Kameralna, or small stage, produced mainly plays by contemporary Polish authors, including the world premiere of Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski's BLISKI NIEZNAJOMY / THE CLOSE STRANGER directed by Joanna Koenig (1968), and Wiesław Myśliwski's ZŁODZIEJ / THE THIEF directed by Anna Minkiewicz (1974). At this time the theatre's ensemble comprised about 100 actors, including Nina Andrycz, Elżbieta Barszczewska, Zofia Małynicz, Janina Romanówna, Tadeusz Fijewski, Wieńczysław Gliński, and actors of the younger generation, to mention Anna Nehrebecka and Jan Englert.
In 1981-1993 the Teatr Polski was managed by Kazimierz Dejmek. He maintained its academic character, but this time as a conscious aesthetic choice. At the Teatr Polski, Dejmek continued his series of Old Polish productions: UCIECHY STAROPOLSKIE LEPSZE I POŻYTECZNIEJSZE ANIŻELI Z BACCHUSEM I WENERĄA MUZYKA, ŚPIEWEM TAŃCEM OKRASZONE / OLD POLISH PLEASURES BETTER AND MORE USEFUL THAN THOSE WITH BACCHUS AND VENUS, SPICED UP WITH MUSIC, SINGING AND DANCE (1981), GRA O NARODZENIU I MĘCE / A PLAY ABOUT THE NATIVITY AND THE PASSION (1982), and Mikołaj Rej's ŻYWOT JÓZEFA / LIFE OF JOSEPH (1985). He staged a version of Stanisław Wyspiański's WYZWOLENIE / LIBERATION containing references to current events (1982), and Fredro's ZEMSTA / THE REVENGE with Tadeusz Łomnicki as Papkin (1983), a production designed as a comment on the roots of the Polish model of culture.
"These were shows in which Dejmek, despite accusations of having lost his sensitivity to genuine social problems, tried - with varying degrees of success - to hold discussions with the audience, and in which - as far as the classics were concerned - despite rather traditional theatrical forms, he proposed a new approach to the issues and dilemmas contained in that literature." (Joanna Godlewska, "Najnowsza historia teatru polskiego" / "The Newest History of Polish Theatre", Wrocław 2001)
The works of Sławomir Mrożek enjoyed a special place at the Teatr Polski. Dejmek staged such plays as VATZLAV (1982), KONTRAKT / THE CONTRACT with Jan Englert and Zdzisław Mrożewski (1986), and PORTRET / THE PORTRAIT featuring Piotr Fronczewski and Jan Englert (1987). Apart from Dejmek himself, other directors staging their productions included Jan Bratkowski, Jerzy Rakowiecki, and also Jan Englert and Andrzej Łapicki who meticulously developed the Fredro comedy style in such plays as ŚLUBY PANIEŃSKIE / MAIDENS' VOWS (1984) and DAMY I HUZARY / LADIES AND HUSSARS (1986).
Dejmek was succeeded by Jerzy Zaleski. Major events in 1993-1996 included some spectacular productions of Shakespeare plays directed by Maciej Prus, with stage design by Zofia de Ines: RICHARD III with Jan Englert in the title role (1993), LOVE'S LABOURS LOST which the Theatrum Gedanense Foundation chose as the best show of the season (1994), and JULIUS CAESAR with Ignacy Gogolewski in the main role (1996). Andrzej Łapicki ran the theatre from 1996 to 1999. He staged more plays by Fredro, including ZEMSTA / THE REVENGE with Daniel Olbrychski as Cześnik and Ignacy Gogolewski as Rejent (1998).
Jaroslaw Kilian, son of stage designer Adam Kilian, has been the Teatr Polski's artistic manager since 1999. The two of them have staged Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1998), Jan Drda's TRIFLING WITH THE DEVIL (1999), Molière's DON JUAN with Piotr Adamczyk in the title role (2001), and Bolesław Leśmian's PRZYGODY SINDBADA ŻEGLARZA / THE ADVENTURES OF SINDBAD THE SAILOR (2002). Since 2000, the Teatr Polski and the editors of "Teatr" monthly have organized meetings on the theory and history of performance arts, under the title "Theatre Is the World".
Teatr Polski w Warszawie
ul. Karasia 2
Phone: (+48 22) 826 92 71, 826 48 80