Review: Pieces of a Woman, Battersea Arts Centre

The phenomenal TR Warszawa return to the UK with the blistering Pieces of a Woman at Battersea Arts Centre

“Radzisz sobie świetnie”

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Polish theatre company TR Warszawa but it is the first time in quite a while. I caught their show T.E.O.R.O.M.A.T. at the Barbican back in 2010 and I remember aspects of it vividly, it being something so unlike anything I’d seen before at that point in my theatregoing. I’m not sure why their visits since have been so rare, or indeed why this run could only be two nights at Battersea Arts Centre, but I’m grateful that that chance was offered up.

Pieces of a Woman arrives as a co-presented by Battersea Arts Centre and The Adam Mickiewicz Institute and might be considered a bit of a safer bet as the 2021 film version garnered Academy Award attention for Vanessa Kirby. With directed by Kornél Mundruczó and text and dramaturgy by Kata Wéber, it did originate onstage though and with its blistering intensity here, you can see why it has been so well regarded.

Opening with an utterly traumatising home birth that goes horribly wrong, this is uncompromising theatre from the off. But not in an alienating manner. The scene is acted out behind a screen but filmed and projected onto it, a remove that distances but doesn’t dilute its intensity as Justyna Wasilewska’s Maja is fractured by the experience. Just how much, we see in the two-hour scene that follows.

It is six months later and the screen is removed to reveal a family gathering, presided over by Magdalena Kuta’s elderly matriarch. As a (real) roast dinner cooks in the oven, the rippling effects of Maja’s trauma plays out across her loved ones as well as her damaged self. Some immerse themselves in pursuing legal cases for compensation, others devolve into drink and drugs, others yet into childhood dance routines with ribbons.

Played out in real time, it is hyper-naturalism to the nth degree, each emotional peak and trough deeply felt by the whole ensemble (completed by Dobromir Dymecki, Monika Frajczyk, Sebastian Pawlak, Julia Wyszyńska and Agnieszka Żulewska). The peeling back of the multiple secrets being held by so many here build into something really quite moving, even as the journey ends up being somewhat unexpected. Sensationally good work, I only hope it isn’t another 14 years before I get to see TR Warszawa again.

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