10th Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival

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  • Saturday, December 9, 2017 - Saturday, December 16, 2017

Audacious Theatre

The Divine Comedy festival keeps a close eye on the pulse of Polish theatre. Given the adrenaline boost it delivers, our heartbeat is bound to quicken!

“Theatre in ruins”? In defiance of the motto of the anniversary 10th Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival (9-16 December), we will discover that Polish theatre is not simply surviving but thriving! “The slogan may sound chilling, but I hope most people will take it with a pinch of salt. We will see powerful, determined spectacles, filled with bold visions, often verging on the radical. Polish theatre is brimming with energy, and the more conflict there is, the more anger, disagreement and mutiny,” promises Bartosz Szydłowski, the festival’s artistic director.

This year, the organisers bring us theatre which instantly responds to our shifting daily realities and boldly identifies sources of social and political crises. It is provocative theatre, unsettling and pushing our boundaries while calling for solidarity and communal action. “On the threshold of this great celebration of theatre, I’d like to remind us that each crisis is also an opportunity for something new. Let’s talk, let’s keep creating spectacles even if we don’t all agree about the external conditions,” pleads Szydłowski.

Lupa and others

The Purgatorio section, and the entire festival, opens with the world premiere of Vernon Subutex – an adaptation of the acclaimed novel by the French author Virginie Despentes by the Wiktor Rubin/Jolanta Janiczak duo. The story starts as the protagonist is evicted from his apartment and, clutching a single valise, embarks on a peregrination round Paris in search for a new home; it serves as a brutal portrait of 21st-century society, in particular people now in their 30s and 40s.

The artistic counterpoint for Rubin and Janiczak’s project comes from the long-awaited The Trial by Krystian Lupa. The spectacle, originally planned to be premiered at Polish Theatre in Wrocław, was eventually co-produced by the Nowy, Powszechny, Studio and Rozmaitości theatres in Warsaw. Franz Kafka’s universal novel, transposed to the stage by the acclaimed director, remains just as timely as ever in its portrayal of entrapment, limited autonomy and self-destruction in the contemporary world.

The section also presents Jakub Roszkowski’s The Rebellion. The play, premiered during the Genius Loci Festival, recalls the bloody events of 1846, highlighting the enormous social divisions and violent hatred they can stir. Nowa Huta presents the latest instalment of Marek and Marcin Chlanda’s performative installation School of Utopia.

Brand new this year is Little Divine Comedy, a review of children’s theatre. Young fans of theatre will see puppet performances Stories From the Oblivion from the Animation Theatre in Poznań (dir. Duda Paiva), as well as Heaven Hell (dir. Jakub Krofta) and Monument (dir. Jiří Havelka) from the Wrocław Puppet Theatre. As usual, the organisers have also prepared an alternative trail for curators and foreign guests, presenting independent theatres in Kraków.

Fury and revolt

As ever, the most important and rousing event of the festival is the Inferno Polish competition. We will see works by mutinous, uncompromising and politically incorrect artists; artists who remain true to themselves, strong in community and unified by a sense of the power of their work. The best spectacles are revealed by the international jury: Reem Allam (director of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival in Egypt), Cesar Augusto (director of the Tempo Festival), the producer Jurriaan Cooiman, Matthias Pees (artistic director of the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm Festival in Frankfurt), the American director and dramatist Diane Rodriguez, and the Korean artist and curator Ji-Young Won.

We will see strong performances by the National Stary Theatre in Kraków: Jan Klata’s The Wedding, notorious not only for featuring the black metal band Furia, and Monika Strzępka and Paweł Demirski’s Triumph of the Will. The latest premiere by the Cracovian theatre is, first and foremost, a showcase of the skills of the entire troupe and evidence of Jan Klata’s boundless creativity and imagination; in spite of expectations, his interpretation of Wyspiański’s drama stays clear of political allusion to focus on how Polish people experience death and the drive towards it. The gallows energy of The Wedding is counterbalanced by the hopeful, optimistic Triumph of the Will – an almost cabaret-style tale of overcoming barriers and finding happiness.

Another wedding, rather more bloody, is the subject of Agata Duda-Gracz’s You’ll Be Pleased, Madam; or the Very Last Wedding in the Village of Kamyk. The production by Nowy Theatre in Poznań, inspired by Wiesław Łuk’s reportage I Do Not Propose, reveals the story of a murder, presented in a naturalist, fairytale aesthetic characteristic of the director. Krzysztof Garbaczewski’s The Peasants takes place in a rural albeit highly modernised setting. In his adaptation of the novel by Władysław Reymont, the director focuses on themes of emancipation and ecology while critiquing the patriarchal order he sees as the root of the problems faced by contemporary Polish society.

Rubin and Janiczak return to give a voice to groups generally marginalised in public discourse in their Stateswomen, Sluts of the Revolution, or the Learned Ladies. The protagonist is Anne-Josèphe Théroigne de Méricourt, who – despite being one of the leading organisers of the French Revolution – is not as well remembered as her male counterparts such as Danton or Robespierre. Reaching for the script by Andrzej Wajda’s legendary adaptation from 1978, Agnieszka Glińska’s As Years Go By, As Days Go By [Where Is Pepi?] introduces the great ignored in literature of the Young Poland movement: assimilated Cracovian Jews. Themes of erasure from history and cultural appropriation are also explored by Anna Smolar in Henrietta Lacks, telling the story of the African American woman who died of cervical cancer; her cancer cells, collected without her or her family’s consent, are the source of the first immortalised cell line which remains one of the most important models in medical research.

Cezary Tomaszewski and Marta Górnicka explore the frigid, monolithic image of masculinity, patriotism and Polishness. Reaching for his personal experience with conscription, Tomaszewski’s Cezary Goes to War (produced by Komuna Warszawa) mocks military ethos and oppressive stereotypes, all set to Moniuszko’s music. Górnicka’s Hymn to Love, written for choir, is a response to the growing trends of nationalism and hostility to refugees.

Another play exploring the fear of otherness is Maja Kleczewska’s The Rage. Based on Elfriede Jelinek’s razor sharp text, bristling with metaphors and penned in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the offices of “Charlie Hebdo”, the performance explores mechanisms behind social phobias and reveals the hypocrisy of Western European elites as they remain indifferent to the greatest humanitarian crisis of recent decades.

The competition also welcomes back Michał Borczuch, winner of the last two Divine Comedy festivals; this time he presents a spectacle developed at Warsaw’s Nowy Theatre. Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu is a dissection of some of our greatest hidden fears and presents a vision of a society paying homage not to the Esoteric Order of Dagon, but to politicians.

We will also see projects reaching for more radical and experimental forms of expression. In his Fuck… Revolt Scenes, director Marcin Liber and former actors of Polish Theatre in Wrocław examine various forms of social and artistic insurgence against objectification and the authorities’ contempt for artists. Wojtek Ziemilski’s Come Together takes us on an ironic journey into the very heart of the theatre experience and examines the fossilised mechanisms behind performances and the relationship between actors and audiences.

In Grzegorz Wiśniewski’s Harper, the outstanding Magda Grąziowska goes on a journey back to her home town and also deep within herself. In a similar vein are Anna Augustynowicz’s minimalist, sparse The Marriage and Marcin Wierzchowski’s Secret Life of the Friedmans; the latter is based on a true story of a Jewish family whose lives are turned upside down following allegations of child abuse.

Heavenly hell

Closing the festival, the section Paradiso is a zone for directors at the threshold of their careers. This year we review some of the best graduation performances by students from the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Kraków and its branch in Wrocław. We will see Rafał Dziwisz’s adaptation of Dorota Masłowska’s acclaimed novel Honey, I Killed Our Cats, Piotr Ratajczak’s Český díplom presenting a tragicomic take on the history of Czechoslovakia and its colourful traditions, and Ewa Kaim’s hit of last year To the Bottom, exploring sources of folk songs.

***

„New Polish theatre demands to rule our souls!” declare the festival organisers audaciously. Will it succeed? Is it even possible? Let’s find out!

(Justyna Skalska, "Karnet" magazine)

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