The Rats by the prominent German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann directed by Maja Kleczewska for the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw was one of the most anticipated premieres of 2014.
The talented interpreter of plays by Chekhov, Shakespeare, and the Austrian Nobel-winning author Elfriede Jelinek decided to now tackle a playwright who is hardly recognized in Poland. An apt observer of the misery of social life, the German Noble-winning author with a Silesian background used to repeat that he wants to bring forth a rebellion that will enrage audiences and politicians.
I only follow this clue and try to translate Hauptmann's world into a reality I am familiar with.
– the director said in a conversation with Culture.pl
Joining forces with her permanent dramaturg Łukasz Chotkowski, Kleczewska moved the play from the early 20th century to contemporary Warsaw, more precisely – to the politically engaged stage of the Powszechny Theatre, whose new director Paweł Łysak invites artists and spectators alike to take part in heated discussions, for instance about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Kleczewska also joined the debate and introduced the real stories of Ukrainian women working in Poland under the table to her staging of The Rats. How are they treated?
We also ask who can nowadays afford to employ a housekeeper from the Eastern countries, who are the beneficiaries of the 1989 political transformation, the residents of gated communities with swimming pools and parking spaces. What do they represent and what do they think about the world surrounding them?
The authors of the performance also take a close look at the cultural activists and creators, artistic elites, and celebrities who assume the roles of experts.
Hauptmann is concerned with his contemporary theatre, the directors, actors, co-creators of that world, and on the other hand he enters the staircase of a tenement house inhabited by people without any resources, living in poverty and sorrow. Just like Hauptmann, she tries to capture that tension in the world which wants to talk about art, culture, and drama, but prefers Schiller's language to that of the street.
In an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza, Łukasz Chotkowski recalled that “Hauptmann fought a rebellious battle for theatre throughout his life, he was a total troublemaker. People got into fistfights at his premieres. A review of Before Sunrise said it was “intellectual mayhem.” During The Weavers, Wilhelm II slammed the door when leaving his box," we find out from Iza Szymańska's text.
The performance, which was co-produced by the Kraków's Boska Komedia Festival, features Karolina Adamczyk, Agnieszka Krukówna, Eliza Borowska, Karina Seweryn, Maria Robaszkiewicz, Michał Czachor, Tomasz Chrapusta, Michał Jarmicki, and Mateusz Łasowski, among others.
The Rats premiered in Warsaw on 10th January, 2014 at the Powszechny Theatre. This made it only the second staging of the play in Poland – the first took place back in 1912.
The art of resistance – press coverage
So how was the performance received by the critics?
The aged play by a Nobel winner acts as an opportunity for dealing with contemporary hatred and hypocrisy. Maja Kleczewska's machinery is at its best. No one will leave alive. Or dry. Or dressed. Maja Kleczewska's theatre works like a traveling panopticon. It sounds repulsive, but one still comes, watches, empathises.
– reads a review on kulturaonline.pl.
According to Aneta Kyzioł from Polityka weekly:
“The Rats is a voice of resistance against the egoism and complacency of the Polish middle class, including the theatre makers. It also stands against the commercialization of theatre, the weakening of its critical potential, and flattering the viewer-as-consumer. It is a powerful voice, which is however slightly crippled by the fact that the director copies her old tricks in the production layer.”
Witold Mrozek of Gazeta Wyborcza wrote:
The first scene – the best of the entire performance – announces a harsh social critique and demonstrates the hypocrisy that underlies the Poles' attitude towards the Ukrainians: it features Polina (a magnificent Karolina Adamczyk-Oleszczuk) in a grotesque and exaggerated dialogue with the Polish “Mr and Mrs.” The house-owners humiliate her, ridicule her coat “made of real Ukrainian panther,” her Polish skills, Ukraine in general – a country of savages. When the abased cleaner is forced to apologize her patrons, she receives the reply: “You all apologised for Wołyń, too,” “you wasted your freedom on alcohol.” Bruno, Mrs. John's psychopathic brother, played by Michał Czachor, indulges in power. […] We witness a parody of a lifestyle to which the contemporary middle class apparently aspires. The world of the John family is filled with ideal consumers, beautiful like characters from commercials, and stupefied by those same commercials. A child that was taken away from Polina is to be sent to yoga classes, learn three languages, and grow up eating a gluten-free diet. Films edited by a proud father expose his complete lack of taste, while after a drink of vodka, the master of the house entertains his guests with racist jokes.
Sources: own materials, Teatr Powszechny, GazetaWyborcza, Polityka, ed. AL, transl. Ania Micińska, September 2015