T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. sees the return of Polish theatre company TR Warszawa to the Barbican after their highly acclaimed 4.35 Psychosis earlier this year. I was meant to go and see that show, but after having had an awful day with some bad news thrown in for good measure a friend took my ticket instead for that emotionally bruising experience, but having seen this show, I kind of wish I had taken the risk: they are clearly a company firing at the top of their game.
Based on a film by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Theorem, the show follows a rich businessman and his family as their lives are thrown into upheaval with the arrival of a mysterious stranger, who proceeds to seduce each and every one of them including the maid, who then departs just as suddenly, leaving everyone to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and discover what has been revealed to them. It is performed in Polish with English surtitles, but is more akin to a silent movie with its series of near-wordless scenes played out in beautiful tableaux.
I don’t imagine that this will be for everyone, but I enjoyed it and sitting here reflecting on it a day later, its hypnotic, haunting quality is still fresh in my mind. I haven’t seen the film, nor did I really know what it was about for seeing it, but for me it felt like an indictment of the materialism of the upper middle classes and their retreat from true emotional honesty. The visitation from Sebastian Pawlak’s Guest remains unexplained, from whence his interventions unknown, but the more significant part of the drama is the varying ways in which the members of the household react, or more accurately are able to react, in the face of this confrontation.
Danuta Stenka’s mother was just stunning, one of the most unforgettable physical performances I have seen all year and almost all without words. The journey from composed socialite wife to an almost animalistic sexual being was traced with so much feeling and the final look of anguish on her face was harrowing to the extreme. And as the son Pietro, Jan Dravnel’s acknowledgment of his homosexuality and subsequent struggle to deal with the flood of emotion it unleashes was also beautifully played. His artistic fervour could so easily have been hammed up but it was perfectly judged. I also really enjoyed Rafał Maćkowiak’s performance as Angiolino, a most handsome and cheekily personable figure although his mysterious appearances shrouded in the dark during the opening scenes and his passing of judgement at the end of the show left me wondering just who this character really was: an intriguing dilemma.
The score by Jacek Grudzień and Piotr Domiński is just beautiful, so much of what happens is underscored by the music and it plays a huge part in setting this unsettling landscape and its sometimes sudden shifts in mood and Magdalena Maciejewska’s set design makes wonderful use of every inch of the vast stage at the Barbican and bringing a most realistic snowfall towards the end. So whilst it was a little too long to run without an interval, and a little too languorous in its setting up of its premise, T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. proves a strikingly experimental approach to theatre, completely unafraid to be both intellectual and beautiful, and secure enough to leave its audience to make up its mind about what it is they have just seen.