Klatwa review at Teatr Powszechny, Warsaw – ‘visceral, provocative, necessary’
On paper, Klatwa (The Curse) is a 1899 play by Polish dramatist and renaissance man, Stanislaw Wyspianski. It has long been out of favour in Poland thanks to its controversial subject matter; a village girl having two children with her local Catholic priest.
Oliver Frljic’s new production for Teatr Powszecheny goes a long way beyond simply re-staging the play. Instead, this Klatwa is a provocative, moving, and intelligent dissection of artistic freedom in a nationalist theocracy.
At one point, close to the end of the play, one of the actors offers the audience a recap of everything they’ve seen so far: the phone call to Brecht at the beginning; the five minute act of fellatio on a statue of Pope Jean-Paul II; the subsequent hanging of this statue with the sign “Defender of Paedophiles” around its neck; the scenes from The Curse, furiously interrupted with denunciations of the director by cast members; the actress talking about the – illegal in Poland – abortion she plans to have.
As with Blasted, or Saved, before them, simply listing the sensational aspects of the piece cheapens it. A simple list of the things that happen on the stage runs the risk of making Klatwa sound like a gratuitous shock-fest. It is iconoclastic, certainly, but it is also brilliantly performed, dramaturgically nuanced and energetic, like nothing you’ve seen on the English stage.
The genius of the piece is partly its context: in Poland, the Catholic Church has long had an influence over what gets performed on Polish stages. Plays are simply cancelled because of 'safety concerns' and, since the election of the ultra-nationalist Law and Justice party in 2015, this has been backed-up with official censorship, de-funding, and the removal of controversial artistic directors from theatres. Klątwa is the electrifying staging of a line in the sand.
If it were simply an attack on the Church and its censorship of artistic freedoms it would simply feel self-satisfied. Instead, the piece also attacks its own hypocrisies. In a scene that would resonate very strongly here, the actress who has been playing the victim of Catholic violence against women asks why, in the feminist theatre of Oliver Frljic, she still ends up being attacked and violated.
In another section, the performer Barbara Wysocka pokes pointed fun at the fact that Frljic will simply fly off to Munich or Maribor after this piece opens, leaving the theatre and cast to deal with the fall-out from the show he has just made.
This is a landmark production of Polish theatre – a long overdue airing of very real concerns about the personal, political and artistic freedoms of an entire country. Don’t let the inevitable outraged diversionary headlines distract you; this is visceral, thoughtful, necessary theatre. Ensuring that Klatwa continues to run is a matter of international urgency.