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44. Warsaw Theatre Meetings

Plays that made a special mark on the theatrical map of Poland in the past season, a concert, workshops and the Festival Club. Here are the 44th Warsaw Theatre Meetings.

After the great productions telling the story of the key myths of the Polish community - The Death of John Paul II by Jakub Skrzywanek or 1989 by Katarzyna Szyngiera, which we could see during last year's edition - the Polish theatre has clearly scaled up in the past year. It has changed lenses. The creators stayed much closer to personal histories, made autobiographical confessions, uncovered family dramas, searched within traumas - theatre often spoke of pain, fear, death, tried to understand the meaning of these experiences and confronted them. Such is the case with one of the undoubtedly most important plays of 2023 - Jak nie zabiłem swojego ojca i jak bardzo tego żałuję Mateusz Pakuła (Łaźnia Nowa Theatre / Żeromski Theatre in Kielce). It's a personal, honest, uncompromising record of his father's illness and passing, which resonates as a brave, loud plea for the legalisation of euthanasia. More than a year after its premiere, it continues to stir up emotions, provoke discussion and win major awards at subsequent festivals - it would be hard to imagine this year's WTM without this production.

The path of difficult, emotional, themes is also followed by Małgorzata Wdowik's Anxiety Comes at Dusk, based on the fantastic, best-selling debut by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Wrocławski Teatr Pantomimy im. H. Tomaszewski) - a sensual, visual, almost wordless journey through the world seen through the eyes of a grieving child. Underneath the intricately composed images pulsates pain, the mystery of bodily and psychological harm, the conspiracy of silence - evoking associations with Philipp Quesne's vivariums, the performance is a poignant study of suffering, which seduces with its perverse, dark fairy-tale character. On the more cheerful end of the spectrum of the theatre of autobiographical confessions is My First Rave by Agnieszka Jakimiak (Teatr Nowy in Łódź) - the first such personal stage statement by the director, known to festival audiences from the Gniezno-based Mila robótka, a feel-good performance which teleports us to the world of Jakimiak's childhood, the pulsating techno Łódź of the 1990s (note: you can dance!). And immediately after the show, Virtual Geisha invites you to a post-rave DJ set at Kulturalna).

After last year's absence, the National Old Theatre in Krakow, often cited as the best theatre of the past season, returns to the WTM with as many as two productions. It is now a theatre in masterly condition, with a courageous, well-knit ensemble, not afraid to reach for new forms, offering its audience excellent adaptations of literature. The first of the two Krakow productions is Luka Perceval's One Long Day - a formally ascetic, shocking family portrait, based on Eugene O'Neill's famous drama about the debilitating, corroding power of addiction on all relationships. The second is Ewelina Marciniak's brisk, visually beautiful A Brilliant Friend, an adaptation of the first volume of Elena Ferrante's tetralogy, a sensual, sensitive but also cruel tale of female adolescence (and Wacław Zimpel, who plays live music in this production, will also give a separate concert during the festival - the first in Warsaw for a long time).

History has provided Polish theatre with important themes - but this time they are not grand narratives, rather journeys along their margins. The tragedy that happened in 1948 on Lake Gardno is reconstructed in the form of a court drama by the creators of Mała piętnastka / Little 15 (Nowy Teatr im Witkacy in Słupsk) - and it is the local (un)memory that turns out to be the most important carrier of identity here. Jolanta Janiczak and Wiktor Rubin (Nowy Theatre in Łódź) go even deeper in The Well-Behaved Young Man, finding in the inter-war biography of Eugeniusz Steinbert, a resident of Łódź, the inspiration for the play.

This is another socially very important performance by this duo, which introduces an important institutional caesura. Finally, the still taboo subject of camp brothels is explored in Night Porter. Experience by Seb Majewski (Szaniawski Drama Theatre in Wałbrzych). Polish-Romanian relationships are explored independently by Wojciech Faruga in The Last Days of Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu (Bydgoszcz) and Gianina Carbunariu in Grandmothers' Tales Whispered to Their Daughters by Their Mothers. For the artists from Bydgoszcz, this is an opportunity to trace the downfall of an authority that outlawed abortion, while the performance from Szczecin is an intergenerational story about women who survived the regime and pass their testimonies on to the next generation. These performances are linked by a reflection on the integrity of the body, and can be seen as a collective story about the appropriation, disposal and management of another person's body, about the pornographic objectification of the body - but at the same time, by the way they strongly assert the humanity of their protagonists, they become important manifestoes of humanism.