Balladynas and Romances (Assembly Roxy: 9 -10 November ’15)

Aphrodite. Photos from Teatr Pinokio, Lodz.

Aphrodite.
Photos from Teatr Pinokio, Lodz.

“The clucking immortality that is forever C-3PO.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars  Nae Bad

My namesake, Alan, has had his own school of motoring in Edinburgh since 1979. He also advertises that a Polish instructor is available, Lekcje nauki jazdy w języku polskim. That would have been handy, off-road, for Balladynny i Romanse. But then in these fluent days the President of the European Council and former Prime Minister of Poland is a Donald, so what the hell …

… which brings me to the Roxy where – appropriate for an old church – heaven and hell congregate on earth in director Konrad Dworakowski’s immersive staging of the Ignacy Karpowicz novel. It is long at 135 minutes but is disciplined and expert. Go to the excellent Polish Book Institute for a useful synopsis of the book and be drawn to Karpowicz’s other work, not least ‘Uncool’ (2006); all still waiting for publication in English.

What we get in Balladynas and Romances on stage is, however, eminently translatable as it’s a classic ‘What If …?’  What if the gods drop in while we’re about our ordinary, sometimes tacky lives, in and out of Poundland (the cute Polish equivalent is Biedronka or ‘Ladybird’ ), in and out of each other – warning: puppets perform sex acts – and what if Athena, Aphrodite, Jesus, and the rest, are a bit cheap and maybe past their sell-by date? The answers are not hard to come by, as the gods are very visible and like talking about themselves, but it is tricky to see if Olga, Janek, Artur and Kama notice that their tawdry domesticity is being messed with. ‘A remote god [may] be a redundant one’ but it has long been our Fate – aka. the Occasional Narrator – not to realize that Eros or Lucifer happens to be in the front room.

Balladyny2

The little mortals are puppets and the gods are dressed in primary black and white, in bathrobes and shades for example. It provides for effective contrast(s), not least when Nike, god of Victory, tenderly cradles the tiny body of a bomb blast victim. Olga, Catholic, fifty something and living alone, undresses and takes a bath and her credulous faith is somehow all the more touching for being manipulated into being. It is the showy gods, though, who demand attention, dwelling as they do on their genealogy – which is a nightmare for Gender theorists – and selfish loves. Eros and Lucifer stand apart, interestingly, each musing on their lot; whilst Osiris’ slender shrouded form and huge eyes recalled the clucking immortality that is forever C-3PO.

Smart lighting and electronic music often snapped the piece back from self-indulgent space and without those puppets the drama would have died, which may well have been the point.

I missed Poland. Eros ruefully mentioned his adopted country at the end of the first half and there were, I’m sure, far more references available than I understood. I googled one Erika Steinbach when I got home and grasped why Old Nick, from Lodz, is a fan. Clearly Balladyna is important but her literary profile receded as, languorous yet scheming, she acted out her bridging role as demi-god fixer and apologist for the ills of the world. At one point, in marvellous conversation with an opinionated Chinese Fortune Cookie, she convinced me that Pinocchio Theatre really know what they are about.

Director: Konrad Dworakowski
Set designer: Marika Wojciechowska
Music: Piotr Klimek
Choreographer: Jacek Owczarek
Lighting director: Bary

Cast: Hanna Matusiak, Ewa Wróblewska, Żaneta Małkowska, Małgorzata Krawczenko, Mariusz Olbiński, Łukasz Bzura, Łukasz Batko, Natalia Wieciech, Anna Makowska.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 9 November)

Go to ‘Balladynas and Romances’ at the Polish Cultural Institute & to Pinocchio Theatre, Lodz.

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.