I Shall Never Return was the last play which Kantor finished, and the last of his works presented with his participation.
The international co-production I Shall Never Return
premiered in Milan on 23rd April, 1988. For the first time, Kantor decided not only to be on stage (which he had done before) but to be a fully-fledged actor. He played the part of 'I – in person'. His recorded voice sounded from a speaker resembling a street loudspeaker, and the play opened with the words:
In a moment I will enter
a shabby and disreputable
I’ve been walking to it for a long time.
I’ve been going to a meeting,
I don’t know with whom, either with phantoms or with people.
In the beginning Kantor shares the stage only with the Pub Owner, who is cleaning the tables, the Barefooted Harlot, who is cleaning the floor, and the dozing Priest from Wielopole.
After some time, characters – phantoms from Kantor’s previous plays – barge onto the stage. They jostle and comment on the presence of the person that gave them their stage existence.
In an interview with Ewa Gil-Kołakowska, the artist stated that:
Life is sufficient material for making theatre. I came to this conclusion quite late, but I’m convinced that the art of theatre doesn’t require literature.
I Shall Never Return / Nigdy tu już nie powrócę is a collage made from memories – scenes, characters and props once used in Kantor’s theatre. The actors set up desks that don’t have anything to do with The Dead Class and create a kind of waiting room. During the performance, the actors change roles so that the artists can invoke Kantor’s wartime realization of Wyspiański’s play The Return of Odysseus / Powrót Odysa.
Memories involving theatre intertwine with personal themes. Kantor’s voice tells about the death of the Father, who died in Auschwitz (the Father is played by a mannequin attached to a whipping post).
The song Ani Maamin is sung a few times by those going to the gas chambers, and its melody is taken up by the Barefoot Harlot. She is also the one that performs the task of freeing the actors from under a black shroud – The Great Emballage of the 20th Century – in one of the final scenes.
During the first rehearsals Kantor used the White Emballage, a package made from paper and resembling a human figure. In the premiere version of the play, instead of this object, a coffin was used. After a dozen or so shows, the coffin was substituted by an actress wearing a dirty, ragged veil and a close-fitting jumpsuit. Resembling the dead Bride, She (this was the name of the character) sat at Kantor’s table during the play. Her wedding with Kantor’s mannequin was an important moment. During this ceremony, the crazy, tango-dancing Priest had to be substituted by the Pub Owner, who used a tea towel instead of a stole.
Mieczysław Porębski pointed to the play’s links to Alexander Blok’s The Fairground Booth / Buda jarmarczna (as a young man, Kantor translated this text together with Wanda Baczyńska and planned to present it on stage), not only because of the 'theme of fairground actors', but also because of the character of the beloved woman identified with death.
To Kantor, the 1988 performance undoubtedly constituted a breakthrough in his thinking about himself as an artist within his own work. Jan Kłossowicz described this accurately:
I Shall Never Return is a summary of all Kantor’s theatrical experiences. The function of the author in this performance seems to be the most important issue. His decision to cross the boundary which he had set himself earlier – the entry into the play and the giving up of the former position enabling 'authorial' interference.
Author: Karolina Czerska, December 2014
- J. Kłossowicz, Tadeusz Kantor. Theatre / Tadeusz Kantor. Teatr, pub. Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warsaw 1991
- M. Porębski, Plank / Deska, pub. Wydawnictwo Murator, Warsaw 1997
- I Shall Never Return / Nigdy tu już nie powrócę [the Polish version of the play’s programmme], edited by R. Tansini, transl. J. Jarecki 
- Tadeusz Kantor. The Last Decade 1980-1990, edited by J. Chrobak, J. Michalik, pub. Cricoteka, Kraków 2013