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Andrew Haydon: Polish theatre crisis is more important than Brexit

The cast of Klatwa (The Curse) at Teatr Powszeceny, Warsaw
Andrew Haydon
Andrew Haydon is a freelance theatre critic based in Manchester. He has written for the Guardian, Nachtkritik.de, Frakcija, Kultrpunkt.hr, Szinhaz.hu and Exeunt, among others. He blogs at Postcards from the Gods.
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Please forgive the dramatic headline, but this is important.

Three weeks ago, a play opened. It is an artistically important play. I gave it five stars in The Stage, but government ministers want it closed down. The church has condemned it. The actors, creative team and theatre have been threatened with physical violence; a TV culture correspondent defending it has been fired, and yet there’s been nothing whatsoever in the news.

This isn’t happening in Britain. If it were, you’d have heard about it. And it’s not happening in Trump’s America. Obviously – because the merest tweet from over there somehow manages to occupy a week-long news cycle of speculation and counter-speculation. And to no discernible end; we all saw the tweet in the first place.

Meanwhile, to my knowledge, no UK news outlet has covered the abominable behaviour of the Polish government or the state broadcaster under its control, nor the threats of violence, and outright lying of the national press, in relation to Olivier Frljic’s new production, The Curse, at Warsaw’s Teatr Powszechny.

It’s all very well for us anti-Brexit Brits to focus all our attention on the catastrophe that has befallen our poor little country; consider Rufus Norris’s furrowed brow as he earnestly explains the National Theatre’s new verbatim piece about Brexit to The Guardian. But what could be more Brexit-y than focusing all your energies on looking inward into the withered heart of England? Even if Brexit was a (narrow) vote in favour of England being even more up itself than it already is, then what could shout “Mission Accomplished!” more loudly and clearly than yet more naval-gazing about England at the National.?

Meanwhile, in Berlin, within four days of the eruption of scandal and violence around The Curse, the Maxim Gorki Theater had programmed several dates of the show in its main house and German papers had sent reporters and critics. I don’t half wish that somewhere in Britain had immediately made the same offer. Even the sense that it is even on their radars would be welcome.

There is a narcissistic topicality that we self-obsessed Brits might like to reflect on: director Oliver Frljic has now written to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, requesting direct EU intervention into the behaviour of the ruling far-right, Catholic nationalist Law and Justice party:

If institutions and political representatives within Poland are not able to protect basic human rights and freedom of speech, it is imperative that we hear the voice of representatives from the EU. The absence of this voice is being interpreted as approval of the situation, and as support for those who launched and orchestrated this disgraceful campaign against the actors, authors and producers of the performance.

It’s a letter with a chilling irony on two levels for us in the UK. First, the fact that the EU clearly doesn’t intervene in the affairs of its member states: I seem to remember the opposite being a major contention of the Leave campaign. Second, that soon, we’ll no longer have even this notional safety net of legal, humanitarian protection from our own government.

In the meantime, while we digest that sobering thought, it is a matter of urgency that our news agencies start to do the job they’re paid for, and report on crises of democracy in our nearest geographical neighbours, as well as constantly obsessing over the nightmare in the US.

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