TSB Arena, Queens Wharf, Wellington

13/03/2010 - 19/03/2010

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2010

Production Details

Polish Powerhouse Play from Theatre Company TR Warszawa

“The play develops almost without words in a series of hypnotic and disturbing images.” Dziennik, Poland

"A director with sophisticated intelligence" L’Humanite

Europe’s trailblazing theatre company TR Warszawa and its white hot writer-director Grzegorz Jarzyna bring their latest work T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. to the New Zealand International Arts Festival next March.

T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. has yet to be seen outside of Poland and will make its premiere in the United States at the end of November 2009.

“This will be the most talked about production of the 2010 Festival. Exquisitely staged and hauntingly beautiful, it will linger in one’s memory long after the Festival closes,” says Lissa Twomey, Artistic Director of the New Zealand International Arts Festival.

At 41 years old, Jarzyna was Poland’s youngest ever artistic director when he was appointed to the TR Warszawa Theatre 10 years ago. Previously he was apprenticed to Polish Master Krystian Lupa.

Jarzyna’s theatre debut brought about a revolution in Polish theatre and he has single-handedly built TR Warszawa into a popular and celebrated company, with its actors also the stars of the Polish screen.

Since his career began Jarzyna has received numerous prizes and distinctions in Europe and the United States and his work has been invited to festivals in Moscow, St Petersburg, Jerusalem, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Stockholm, London, Dublin, Toronto and New York.

In 2008 his production of Macbeth was performed on a purpose built stage under New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge, his work 4.48 Psychosis was staged at the Edinburgh Festival, and Giovanni was presented in St Petersburg. 

T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. is Jarzyna’s suspense-filled production inspired by the highly controversial Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 cult film Teorema.

T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. begins with a telegram being delivered announcing an unexpected visitor. The following day the unknown visitor arrives at the home of a wealthy family. He proceeds to seduce the whole household – the maid, the son, the mother and finally the father – before leaving the family in complete disarray a few days later. Who was the visitor? Did he deliver salvation or destruction?

While Pasolini’s film boasted a nominal 923 words, T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. is almost without words. The spare dialogue is in Polish with English subtitles. At once menacing and erotic, T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. contains adult themes and nudity that push right to the edge but remain discreet.

“Jarzyna’s thick and focused performance spreads inside the viewers’ heads as mercury spills on the floor…it is impossible to free oneself from images and words, even though they enter our minds lightly…”  £ukasz Drewniak, Przekrój, Poland

WHEN: 13-19 March (no show 15 March), 8pm
WHERE: TSB Bank Arena 

2hrs 15 mins

Superbly focused performances and production elements

Review by John Smythe 15th Mar 2010

Despite the two and a quarter hours running time with no interval and the appallingly cramped seating – these green plastic ones with thin cushions are crammed closer, I swear, than the padded red ones we had for Sound of Silence – there is much to commend in this Polish tribute to a 1968 Italian film.

As a prologue to the play proper, the man we will come to know as the father, Paolo (Jan Englert), takes questions from ‘the audience’ (nice work for three Wellington actors). Thus he opines that society is doomed because everyone is conforming to the global standards of capitalism, public television is imposing images controlled by demagogues, the church is a product of necessity and the notion of consolation is meaningless. He defends his life’s work as a manufacturer, and the wealth that has brought him. And when asked if he believes in God, he replies, thrice: “I don’t understand the question.”

Towards the end of the play, vox-pop projections canvass working class people on whether they believe in miracles, eliciting notions of what would constitute a miracle in their lives.

What plays out in the 120-odd minutes between may be seen as a “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tale. Faithfully replicating Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 art movie Teorama (Theorem) – except for the long blackouts between scenes, which an ingenious director could surely eliminate – T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. (the Polish word for theorem; I have no idea why the full stops are there) reveals what happens when a random factor is dropped into the complacent upper middleclass equation.

Subsequent films that have explored similar themes include Six Degrees of Separation (a stranger invades the self-satisfied lives of well-to-do people and changes them forever) and Being There (people project their wants, needs and beliefs on a ‘blank canvas’ and revere him in the process).

Operating on the ‘doing it in slo-mo makes it art’ principle, the emptiness of this family’s daily life is depicted through three iterations: as Paolo works alone at his correspondence, Lucia, his wife, (Danuta Tenka) meticulously applies her make-up; Odetta, his daughter (Lidia Schneider), brushes her hair/ takes photos/ shows father her album; Pietro, his son (Jan Dravnel) brushes his hair/ studies from a book and presents something he has written to his father who wordlessly corrects it/ presents a corrected version to his father and, getting no response at all, assumes he has won approval. Emilia, the maid (Lidia Schneider), brings coffee and is generally taken for granted.

As in The Letter Writer, there is also a comic postman, Angiolino (Rafa³ Maækowiak) who pines for Odetta and is teased somewhat by her, but of course he is not suitable. It is Angiolino who delivers the telegram to the family breakfast table: “Arriving tomorrow.”

Rather than watch how each member of the household waits for their respective ‘Godot’, we are treated to what happens when he, the unnamed Visitor (Sebastian Pawlak), becomes a guest in their home. (I could insert a spoiler warning here but it is not so much what happens as how it is done, theatrically, that offers the observer most value.)

Emilia is the first to demand his attention then his body, having masked her religious icon from the spectacle. Sharing a room with him, Pietro discovers his gayness. Lucia liberates her repressed sexual desires in a scene where cigarettes, smoke and wine glasses are used most creatively.

But while the Visitor obliges them all, usually after ensuring this is really what they want, it is he who makes the first move on Odetta. And she responds. Although she has told Angilino men don’t interest her, and has objectified the Visitor by photographing him – both hiding behind and probing with her lens (her album, incidentally, is full of male portraits) – she too finds her passions ignited by him.

Paolo has seen his son in bed with the Visitor and been shocked, not so much on moral grounds as at his realisation that intimacy has disappeared from his own life. He uses the Visitor to kick a ball about with, which I suspect is something he never had time to do with Pietro.

The clarity of all these stagings – in Magdalena Maciejewska’s vast bare plywood box set, superbly lit by Jacqueline Sobiszewski and accompanied or interleaved with music of the era (Jacek Grudzieñ & Piotr Domiñski) – is vivid and compelling with its attention to detail, presenting this severly judged family and their world precisely as Pasolini and now this director/ scriptwriter, Grzegorz Jarzyna, want us to see it.

A new telegram, announcing “I’m leaving tomorrow,” provokes a speeche (in Polish with easy-to-read surtitles on the rear wall of the set) from each family member, to or about the Visitor. Paolo claims he has come to destroy and annihilate: “What do you want from me? You don’t exist and never did!” – which could refer to him as a person (being a figment of their collective imaginations) or the values and lifestyle choices he represents. Or both.

Odetta gets into some Freudian self-analysis: having used him to replace her father, who will now replace him? Pietro credits him with making him different from all the others. Lucia realises nothing really interests her; she lives a life of emptiness: “I would have withered without you; now whither will you drive me?” And Emilia packs her bag and leaves.

So, does the experience empower each of them to take personal responsibility for making their lives more fulfilling? Well no. They each disintegrate in their own way: Odetta becomes catatonic; Lucia becomes a nymphomaniac and gets gang raped for her troubles (because that’s how male writers tend to punish female characters who claim the freedom men routinely enjoy); Pietro tries to become an artist and goes mad; Paolo gives away his wealth and business to his employees, offers a primal scream to the bright light, and ends up naked and trembling in the foetal position.

Emilia sits out the seasons on a very long and ornate sofa (God’s waiting room?) and is visited by a child who takes away her baggage then sits beside her. One interpretation of the Pasolini film suggests she performs a miracle (which fits with the vox-pops on the topic) but I don’t get that here, unless it was her leaving that really caused the idle rich to self-destruct, and that is considered a miracle. 

There’s a memorable film sequence involving birds landing on telegraph wires above the long sofa, as postman Angiolino dances a birdlike courtship of Emelia, until her squawk frightens him and all the other birds away.

The final beat, after what has felt like many endings, involves a long speech from Angiolino about – and in itself reflecting – the interminable, unchanging, repetitive monotony of the desert, which at least explains why the carpet is the colour of desert sand.

“The oneness of the desert does not let us sleep and does not let us wake,” he concludes. But the play’s end at last lets us articulate our atrophied joints and allow circulation to relieve the numbness caused by that unforgivably atrocious seating.

In retrospect, T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T’s superbly focused performances and production elements remind us that the lifestyle depicted is not one to aspire, and leave strong images burned onto our retinas.  
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


sam trubridge March 21st, 2010

"cigarettes, smoke and wine glasses are used most creatively". I thought of you at this point in the show John, recalling the 'smoking on stage' debate that several of us participated in last year. I am surprised that you like it! Your assumption that the company is "operating on the ‘doing it in slo-mo makes it art’ principle" worries me. It expresses a derision for any kind of non-verbal stagecraft. Those scenes did a great job at expressing the lifestyle of this family as cyclic, empty, and distant: the same day rearranged in slightly different ways, the same pointless tasks. It may not appeal to an 'MTV attention span' which can only consume 3'30 segments of condensed action and resolved plotlines, but I do expect a more considered response from seasoned theatre critics. Certainly I have seen the 'slo-mo makes it art' syndrome ruin many a good show, and it does take the maturity that this company has to pull it off.

Kate Prior March 16th, 2010

Angiolino: 'Little angel', 'messenger'

Teorema (original Italian film title): Theory. Hypothesis. "Has its roots in theorema, Greek for spectacle, intuition, theorem; from theorein, to look at, to observe; from theoros, spectator. Theory and spectatorship, the theory of looking are thus implied. And so are the ideas of theory as spectacle and spectacle as theory" Maurizio Sanzio Viano, A Certain Realism: Making use of Pasolini's film theory and practice

(And perhaps the most important and most glaring omission from this review) Allegory: The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form. 

John Smythe March 15th, 2010

Given the Italian origins, the fact that the Italian names are retained and his name specifically, I'd say Angiolino is a 1960s Arlecchino-type character, drafted from the commedia to offset the sophisticated bourgeoisie. I found his 'clowning' quite awkward, though.

Hannah Smith March 15th, 2010

What I would like to know is: what the heck was goin on with 'The Postman' character?  Why did he come on and dance like crazy during the blackouts? Why the peculiar hair piece, and the drawing attention to it? Why was he seen by some characters (Emila, Odetta) and seemingly invisible to others, not just 'socially invisible', actually invisible? Why his prominence at the end of the play, in the final speech?  In many ways he seemed far more the architect of the family's trajectory than 'The Visitor'.
I'm baffled.  Any ideas?

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An irritating puzzle, but wonderfully spun

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 15th Mar 2010

I propose a boycott of TSB Arena as a venue for theatrical productions until something is done about the seating, particularly as T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. lasts for 130 minutes and has no interval to stretch one’s legs.

Having got that off my chest I have to report that T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. is, at one level, pretty tough going. Its inspiration comes from Teorama, Pier Paola Pasolini’s 1968 cult movie, which a noted acerbic film critic described as if not the worst film ever made, “you can’t blame it for not trying.” A more puzzled critic described it as  “perversely difficult” but went on to write “that it is serene, that it is ridiculous, that it has the power at some subterranean level to remain in your memory long after you think you’ve dismissed it.”

Polish director Grzegorz Jarzyna’s stage adaptation follows the film’s plot closely: a rich industrialist’s family is disrupted when a complete stranger walks into his home and proceeds to seduce one and all. When the stranger mysteriously leaves, the industrialist, his wife, son, daughter and the maid go to pieces.  

Who is the visitor? Pasolini said he was “a hypothesis” and that he represents the Divine, and that his film was largely about the “cage of words” in which we are all ensnared. The film has apparently only 923 words in it; the stage version probably has a few more (there are surtitles) but speech is not important except at the beginning and end, images are.

The director is reported as saying the family reflects contemporary society and at “the root of it is the growing concept of consumerism.” The play begins and ends with a press conference in which the industrialist, who has given his factory to the workers as a result of the stranger’s visit, is questioned about miracles, God, capitalism, and morality.  At the start he answers arrogantly, at the end his answers reflect what he has learnt from the stranger: we have all lost our way.

The connection between what is said at the last press conference and the scenes of a sterile, moribund family life seem to me to be tenuous. Sex with the stranger, which Pasolini described as “metaphorical,” makes them all see their lives differently, though why they behave as they eventually do is never made clear.

However, while the play remains an irritating puzzle the setting, staging, lighting, music, and the acting are without doubt quite wonderful and will remain long in my memory.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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