Łukasz Drewniak
Wojciech Majcherek

What is there to think?

In his Study on Hamlet, Stanisław Wyspiański wrote a memorable sentence: “In Poland the riddle for Hamlet is what there is to think in Poland?” It has become a “winged word”, quoted on many occasions, often in times that demand solemnity. In the autumn of 2018, the so-called contemporary reality makes us ponder upon many issues, which have not concerned us until recently. Of course we say: “we”, “our”, yet we are aware that the pronouns might be misused here. Not everyone seems to agree that the state of affairs is serious. Even if they do, their respond is some form of escape from responsibility. That may be the main problem tormenting those who keep thinking about Poland, for example, with the assistance of theatre – through theatre.

Without a doubt, politics has become a cause for concern. One cannot pretend it does not exist or take on the attitude of “splendid isolation” and claim they don’t care about politics. That is, they can, but it should be remembered that politics affects also the lives of those declaring their utter lack of interest for it. Today, when politics has become far more menacing than a routine game of power within a democratic system, we are witnessing the ongoing political actions with fear of what they may lead to. The well-founded question to ask now is whether freedom, the core value, is at stake.

If there exist today thoughts shared by artists and the recipients of art, they must touch upon that specific problem. Does theatre that does not discuss the question of freedom remain free theatre? Can theatre which does not address political issues directly be qualified as political theatre because it may be perceived as political?

This is what we are assigned “to think” when we invite you to the 23rd edition of Konfrontacje Teatralne. We believe theatre is an art of the biggest social character, reacting briskly to reality. That was how the best of Polish theatre traditions defined its mission. It is also conveyed in Wyspiański’s quote from the Study on Hamlet. Therefore, we hope that the productions invited this year will be a pretext to think about what’s important, what’s exhausting and tormenting about Polish reality in 2018. Let us search for the key questions and their answers deeper than the surface of the performance. We are, in fact, dealing with theatre, rather than political magazine editorials.

An aura of anxiety will undoubtedly surround the festival’s performances. Some of them can even be given a common denominator, taken from the Polish title of the performance by Maja Kleczewska from Teatr Śląski in Katowice – Under the Influence (“Pod presją” translates directly as “Under Pressure”), inspired by John Cassavetes’s film. The protagonist of the play, a woman, a wife, a mother, escapes the socially accepted norms of behaviour, but does it make her “insane”? Dramatic tension arises between the unique individual and her family. Its source may be traced back to not only psychology, but also to the social system which is so unaccepting towards otherness. This type of “pressure” becomes an experience of more than an individual character.

The protagonists of Marcin Wierzchowski’s The Secret Life of the Friedmans live under a similar “pressure”. This playby Ludowy Theatre in Nowa Huta, was also inspired by a film, in this case a documentary by Andrew Jarecki, which tells the true story of a family whose father was accused of paedophilia. Under the guise of a meticulously realistic story, Marcin Wierzchowski, together with his Ludowy Theatre actors confront the audience with dilemmas of a Greek tragedy. Are we really capable of solving the matter of crime and punishment?

Another example of a performance showing people under severe pressure is Puppenhaus. Treatment written by Magda Fertacz and directed by Jędrzej Piaskowski from TR Warszawa. The Lublin audience will recognise this young but already appraised director from his stage production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Juliusz Osterwa Theatre, which we also want to present as part of Konfrontacje Teatralne. In Puppenhaus, a play distinct in its form, the director recalls the semi-authentic stories of people who had intimate relationships with the occupiers during the war. Under the current dominance of historical politics, which impose heroic and immaculate models of behaviour, Piastowski asks provocative questions. Do we have the right to judge the people who made different choices?

All three of the aforementioned performances are great material “to think”. They are also believed to be the most discussed recent premieres. Discussed not only in the context of their subject matter, but also the aesthetics chosen by their directors. In each case distinct, vivid and well produced, they have won festivals and prestigious awards. Importantly, the success of the performances was also earned by their exceptional casts.

We do not, however, single out the aforementioned performances. The idea behind the festival’s motto – confrontations – is also followed by others selected from the programme. We will see two completely opposite approaches to Chekhov’s plays, the mentioned Three Sisters directed by Jędrzej Piaskowski and Uncle Vanya, put on stage by Ivan Vyrypaev at Polish Theatre in Warsaw. This last season’s hit performance attracted the audience not only with its star cast. Ostentatiously unfaithful to Chekhov’s dramatic convention but true to his text, the performance does not hold Chekhov hostage in a theatre museum. Quite the opposite! It rediscovers how very contemporary the author of Platonov remains.

The theme of putting on stage Russian classics is continued by St. Idiot based on Dostoyevsky’s novel and directed and adapted by Janusz Opryński for Polish Theatre in Bielsko-Biała. It is fortunate that the Lublin audience will have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with another result of the work on Dostoyevky’s novel by the founder of the Provisorium Theatre. Paraphrasing the already quoted Wyspiański, one could say that, the Holy Fool Prince Myshkin has its own riddle in Opryński’s performance.

The substantial chunk of the Polish part of Konfrontacje’s programme is taken by the review of Komuna Warszawa’s performances. It is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting theatre centres in the country. One cannot explicitly declare Komuna independent theatre, since the performances presented in Lublin were created by directors or actors that are also regularly seen on the stages of repertoire theatres. But such formal criteria of independence have long been obsolete. The independence of Komuna lies in their quest for subject matter that investigates reality just under its surface. Such is the case of the play by Anna Smolar Holiday Resort, presenting the perverse utopia of a happy society or Cezary Goes to War, directed by Cezary Tomaszewski, a personal statement on army and war.

The head of Komuna Warszawa, Grzegorz Laszuk, will show 7 Songs about Avant-Garde – a performance created in response to the state celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the avant-grade and an invitation to ponder on the relationship between novel artistic ideas and socio-political reality. Has art got the ability to foresee the future and warn the audience against the evil that is coming?, asks Laszuk.

Konfrontacje will also host the Rolling Stones of the Polish independent scene, The Eighth Day Theatre. It is clear that their newest premiere, Article 196 KK (Exercises on Terror) was created out of the need to react to what is happening around us. The Theatre attacks the well-known phenomena with utmost disdain. Or is it rather defence dictated by fear?

We are curious how, among the Polish performances, the festival audience will receive the works of the Czech director Jan Mikulášek. What will coincide with the anxieties of our artists, what issues will he open our eyes to? In Lublin, the leader of Divadlo na Zabradli in Prague, will present also a peculiar trilogy, that is three grotesque and surreal performances created in the same method: Europeana, a tale of 20th century Europe, about progress, inventions and wars; Obsession, about the endlessly re-enacted dramatic comedy of an unfulfilled love; and Hamlets, a treatise on theatre and the phenomenon of acting. About the line between life and fiction, between acting and fake acting. Last but not least, as part of the festival, students of the Directing Department of the Krakow and Warsaw Theatre Academies will present their works-in-progress, an occasion to see the firsts steps the young generation are taking into the world of theatre.

We would like the programme of the 23rd Konfrontacje Teatralne to be diverse. It might be the right response to the threats of the times when the pressure of uniform thinking can be felt. The times of closing oneself in the ghetto of a one-sided worldview and the resentment to confront the other. Theatre in Poland, at least to some extent, remains the place of real reflection. The performances invited to Lublin are proof of that. We are also hopeful about the debate, inviting the festival artists to deliberate whether today’s reality challenges them in a new way. How do they function under political pressure? What are their ills and fears? What are, in their view, the responsibilities of theatre is such times. In other words: What is there AGAIN “to think” in Polish theatre AD 2018?