11th Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival


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  • Saturday, December 8, 2018, 12:01 AM - Sunday, December 16, 2018

Leaving Chaos Behind

The programme of this year’s Divine Comedy Festival is a triumph of spirit over matter, quality over mediocrity and art over crushing mundanity.

 “Strange is this world” is the motto bringing together spectacles presented during the 11th Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival (8-16 December). The idea of the motif arose during this year’s Stage Songs Contest in Wrocław, where the lyrics from Czesław Niemen’s legendary song were beautifully recited by the actor Krzysztof Globisz who survived a stroke a few years ago.

Introspection and debuts

 “In recent years, we got used to Polish theatre becoming filled with noise, grotesque and distortion. Artists persisted in trying to analyse the middle classes which had dozed off in an illusion of a temporary stability. All of a sudden, this season the impetus of revolt and clamour has been replaced by introspective gestures and a focused gaze trying to discern sense from ongoing chaos and return proportion to values and human relationships. It’s not just an analysis of the current situation but a voice of longing and despair for order, sense and fairness,” says Bartosz Szydłowski, artistic director of the festival.

This year’s programme is dominated by low-key performances with ostensibly classic narratives, attempting to show how the fate of an individual can escalate to a rank of collective experience. The festival is also an opportunity to meet artists who are making a rare or even debut appearance at Divine Comedy in spite of being highly accomplished in their field.

Tradition and the present day

The Inferno Polish competition brings together thirteen productions – including four from Kraków – assessed by an international jury: Ana Marta Pizarro (director of the Iberoamerican Theatre Festival of Bogotá), Igor Lozada (theatre curator), So Kwok Wan (programme director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival), Zane Kreicberga (director of the Latvian Theatre Institute) and Antonio Araujo (artistic director of the Theatre Festival of São Paulo).

It may be hard to believe, but one of the artists making her Divine Comedy debut is… Krystyna Janda. The legendary actress, director and founder of Polonia Theatre and Och-Teatr appears in Notes from Exile. The monodrama penned by Magda Umer, based on memoirs of the Polish Jewish woman Sabina Baral forced to flee Poland during the anti-Semitic purges of March 1968, is a sparse, shocking tale seemingly without a ray of hope. The play owes its power to Janda’s stunning acting and the carefully selected accompaniment of Polish and Jewish music. Anti-Semitism, raising its ugly head again, is also addressed by Remigiusz Brzyk’s 1946 by the Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Kielce. The director revisits the postwar Kielce pogrom to sound a warning that history likes to repeat itself…

Kraków also welcomes back Krzysztof Warlikowski whose success of the last season was We Are Leaving at Nowy Theatre in Warsaw. Following the intricate Frenchmen – an adaptation of Proust’s opus magnum – instead of reaching for another classic piece of European literature, the director presents Hanoch Levin’s drama Suitcase Packers to weave a melancholy tale on the “unbearable lightness of being” and passing from which there is no escape.

The Stanisław Wyspiański Theatre from Katowice presents Maja Kleczewska’s Under the Influence, with the phenomenal Sandra Korzeniak as a woman in the grips of crushing depression fighting a complete mental breakdown. The play is based on the 1974 film Woman Under the Influence by the experimental American director John Cassavetes portraying a hypersensitive woman spiralling into insanity under constant pressures of family and society.

Michał Borczuch, twice-winner of the festival Grand Prix, brings two spectacles to this year’s Divine Comedy. Frogs by Studio Theatre in Warsaw is a fusion of camp posturing and ribald comedy of ancient Greek theatre, showing that “we are still stretched between Hades and Dionysus and we still complain about life, however much we fear meeting Charon”. In turn, Black Parrots, presented at the Małopolska Garden of Arts, is a vivisection of a mind taken over by mental illness, plunging it into ever deeper despair.

Does trauma become indelibly written in our DNA and passed down the generations? Or are our bodies autonomous, universal codes which can meet beyond the framework of language? How do education and tradition influence dance? Wojtek Ziemilski seeks answers to the questions in A Show for Tourists co-produced by Komuna Warszawa and the Mladinsko Theatre. Mladinsko Theatre’s former director is Oliver Frljić, widely known in Poland for his controversial spectacles.

Bartosz Szydłowski’s Conformist 2029 examines the temptations of opportunism and poses the fundamental question: why would someone raised in the spirit of freedom and justice be tempted by fascism? When history decides to test us, how many of us turn out to be titular conformists?

The competition performances also include Iwona Kempa’s Blackmen in Florence, the multi-award winning production of the Nowy Proxima Theatre. Based on a novel by Croatian author Vedrana Rudan, it is a tragicomedy depicting family as an allegory of war.

A new element of this year’s Inferno competition is a play written for a young audience. Little Boy Lost, directed by Paweł Passini and written by Artur Pałyga, is a journey into a virtual world which snatches young people away from reality with deadly consequences.

We will also see plays based on classics of world literature. Jacek Głomb depicts cruelty, manipulation and interference by the state in The Possessed based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya directed by Ivan Vyrypaev is a satirical riposte to contemporary theatre which can often leave audiences feeling drained by its experimentation, vulgarity and nudity. The star-studded play features Anna Nehrebecka making a welcome return to the stage, with Teresa Budzisz-Krzyżanowska, Karolina Gruszka, Andrzej Seweryn and Maciej Stuhr.

New energies

The perennial favourite Paradiso section expands its scope this year to include other areas of performing arts, with a focus on new choreography.

Paweł Sakowicz, one of Poland’s most promising choreographers, presents Jumpcore – a dance spectacle inspired by the life of Fred Herko, the cult American dancer best known for his appearances in Andy Warhol’s early films and his untimely death by suicide when he jumped out of a fifth-storey window during an improvised dance.

The section also includes several strong plays by women. In her spectacle Poets-Prophets, Ewa Rucińska ponders what our national poets might have written about contemporary Poland, while Renata Piotrowska-Auffret’s Pure Gold Is Seeping Out of Me is a study of the female body and the desire for a child, whose birth is often worth its weight in gold. Małgorzata Wdowik’s Strach searches for sources of our terrors, frequently more closely associated with images, sounds and smells than real memories of past events.

We will also see graduation performances by students of the Academy of Theatre Arts: Marcin Liber’s #Gwałt na Lukrecji exploring sexual violence against women and Paweł Miśkiewicz’s fascinating Kongres (nie do końca) futurologiczny.

The section also includes Mateusz Pakuła’s debut Pluton p-brane in which the playwright shows fictional meetings of two explorers of the planet: Percival Lowell and Clyde Tombaughem.

The section also includes an open discussion on Polish theatre, bringing together young Lithuanian directors and students of the acclaimed artist Yana Ross.

Premieres and… premieres

But before we immerse ourselves in the hot atmospheres of Inferno and Paradiso, we explore events held as part of the Purgatorio section. The festival opens with a premiere of The Master and Margarita directed by Paweł Passini from the Ludowy Theatre. It is a special honour for the Nowa Huta-based theatre whose production Secret Life of the Friedmans (dir. Marcin Wierzchowski) won the Grand Prix at last year’s festival. We will also see the long-awaited Rok z życia codziennego w Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej by Monika Strzępka and Paweł Demirski, staged at the Stary Theatre. Natalia Korczakowska’s Two-Headed Calf is a co-production of Studio Theatre and the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) based on Witkacy’s play exploring nature as a source of metaphysical experience helping us protect our individuality against the soullessness of civilisation. And, as always, we will also see spectacles from Cracovian theatres including Barakah Theatre, accompanied by meetings with artist and discussions.

The festival also includes a special edition of The Art of Thinking – a theatrical philosophy cycle organised by the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Kraków. The meeting is hosted by Bartosz Szydłowski and Prof. Piotr Augustyniak, with special guests Krystian Lupa and Janusz Palikot discussing theatre, politics and metaphysics.


The organisers of the Divine Comedy festival promise that in a world which is still home to much evil, Polish theatre lights up the darkness, returns to core values and provides a way out of chaos. Let’s head towards the light!

(Justyna Skalska, "Karnet" magazine)




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