Review and text

 Dong Jeremi Przybora

I do not speak of love  Henryk Dumin

Waiting for Theatre... Marta Poniatowska

A kit for dying, a kit for living Ewa Obrebowska-Piasecka 

In clouds of absurdity Roman Pawlowski

Billiards Zbigniew Szumski

Director’s note: “I had this dream” Zbigniew Szumski

„I had this dream” – reviews  Tadeusz Kornas

„Die Kunst der Karambolage”  Daniele Muscionico

The great Spring cycle starts  Tamás Halász


"Dong"...The very first screens of this spectacle captured  me with the charm and the wit of the scenography, the comically ingenious choreography of movement and gesture,  the precision of words and properties, the invention of the director, who wove all these elements together into an enchanting sequence of nonsense, of intoxicating Learian humour. Four pale young men in black suits and bowler hats (Kochanowski, Kibinski, Rybicki, Siwko) transported me, to the accompaniment of some very well-chosen music, into a wonderland of the absurd.   It was beautiful, disturbing, refreshing, this strange Polish Dong, by the English master of nonsense,  as performed by the "Cinema" Theatre from Michalowice, directed by Zbigniew Szumski.  I have no idea where Micha³owice is, but I do know that this was high-quality humour on a European level  - something sadly lacking in our major cities lately.  I hope that whoever was behind the television production of this small treasure will ensure there is a repeat showing , as I forgot to record it. "

Jeremi Przybora, writer   Polityka, 22 April 1995

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I do not speak of love The "Cinema" Theatre from Micha³owice is now three years old. The village of Micha³owice is properly speaking the place where the creators of this theatre live and work on their next productions.  Their performances generally take place elsewhere:  their two first productions have been shown in Cologne, Prague and Wuppertal, as well as in important venues in Poland.  The director and inspiration of their work has from the outset been Zbigniew Szumski, who is also the theatre's scenographer.  At the visual level there are clear links to the stylistic conventions of the first quarter of this century, and to the atmosphere of the paintings of Douanier Rousseau and René Magritte.  These references locate the theatre's work in the particular climate of European culture, while preserving the originality of its own vision.

After The Dong, which was the group's first production, and its successor Billiards,  November of this year saw the first performance of the latest production entitled I do not speak of love.   This fascinating theatrical picture, which refers in its semantic subtexts to the writing of Miron Bialoszewski among others, represents a specific challenge for the audience.  Using unmitigatedly severe means of expression it confronts the watcher with fundamental problems and compels him, alone, to find an unambiguous answer. ... On stage appear four men in suits, to the sweet but gloomy sounds of a song by Mahler ("The blue eyes of my kitten");  each occupies his own space.  These figures continue in unbroken, solitary activity around four vertical metal hulls. In the cold light of hanging lamps they play out the everyday intimate rituals which make up human existence. Periodic feverish liveliness mixes with continuous dying.  In this clinical study of loneliness people interact with objects.  Prosaic everyday items absorb, concentrate feelings, and co-exist, their integral being forcing humans to acknowledge debts to them.  A building rhythm accents the situation when a beloved object becomes an object of aggression.  From this space, coloured grey and black, filled with the activity of the people fused into it, emerges a compelling, stark picture of passing - a painful record of the human condition.

Of this year's  theatrical events in Jelenia Gora, this latest production of the "Cinema" Theatre is among the most significant. ... The style adopted by the creators of this play place it beyond all aesthetic evaluation.  It represents in its form a clear, distanced and bitter statement.  

Henryk Dumin



Waiting for Theatre... The "Krakow Theatrical Reminiscences" is in principle a festival which aims to present the most significant efforts of alternative theatre, a specific review of the achievements of groups working outside the official, "institutional" mainstream.

... A "strong personality" at the Krakow festival was undoubtedly the "Cinema" Theatre from Michalowice.  Above all, and in contrast to the majority of groups performing here, the actors of "Cinema" impress one with the precision of their technique and the consciousness of their playing.  They fit brilliantly into the poetry of heightened nonsense, building around each figure a set of individual behaviours - movements, gestures, words, situations - which on the one hand stress their distance to the role, and on the other clarify its signficance.

In I do not speak of love four men confined to acting within a space of a few square metres play out the most routine activities: washing the floor, digging holes, reading the newspaper, and finally, counting flies.  Everything becomes material for a sophisticated, perverse game, both with the theme as with the audience watching. The apparent chaos of mechanical actions and situations that repeat themselves,  set against the text, is precisely calculated:  it reveals the bitter truth about loneliness, lack of understanding, suffering, fear of death, longing for closeness.  All these painful feelings are "exorcised" with the help of the all-pervading absurd, which functions as a kind of anaesthetic.

It is no accident that a broomstick has a teddy bear on it instead of a mop (the actor dips it in a bucket of water, scrubs the floor with it, and then himself). It is no accident either that the protagonists are confined in tall metal containers which seem at once to be a room, a coffin, props store and playing field.  The relations between the characters are marked by  neutral indifference rather than emotion -  another person represents only a potential obstacle, who may disturb the rhythm of repeated actions - Kafkaesque reality appropriates personality.  Finally we see on stage only four dummies, programmed to dig their own graves.

An even sharper and perhaps more concretized vision of the degradation of values is the play Billiards.  With great precision and awareness of scenic design the director, Zbigniew Szumski, constructs a frightening and absurd world, in which relationships between people succumb to complete degeneration.  A bleak urban landscape is the setting for an extraordinary contest between brutal, cruel men and constantly humiliated and violated women. Nobody is in control of their own behaviour - they are imprisoned in the stereotype of mechanical behaviours, which constitute the only measure of values.  The heroine, who cannot learn them, is "unadapted", excluded from society. Only by breaking into that same rhythm can she justify her fortuitousness.  The reality of Billiards portrays man reduced to an object, deprived the right to self-awareness, condemned to consent to even the greatest absurdity.  Huge tables to which are fixed the female legs of dummies are a sign of the final defeat of humanity.  At the same time, however, despite this drastic message, the play is full of perverse humour - the wonderful play of words and the abstractness of the staged situations leave the actors balancing constantly between nonsense and cruelty.  The production makes us laugh, in the same way as do the actors' contortions in I do not speak of love:  the wealth of ideas and their constant confrontation with a sharp and distinct text on the one hand demonstrate distance from the created situation, and on the other disturb us with their true meaning.

"Cinema" is a group which has its own recognisable language, a specific poetry, and above all artistic awareness, which coupled with skilled acting and precise direction constitute the originality and signficance of the phenomenon.  "Cinema" epitomizes the notion of author's theatre.

Marta Poniatowska     Nowy Nurt no 11 (55/96)

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A kit for dying, a kit for living

The "Cinema" Theatre.  In Michalowice they do not speak of love

After seeing the play I do not speak of love you feel so empty, cold, bleak and dismal that you lose the desire to live.

Several years ago four young actors with a theatre school training gave up on the repertory theatre.  It was too stuffy for them.  They went off to Micha³owice near Jelenia Gora and formed their own theatre.  They live there. They act and do workshops all over Poland and in Europe.

First they delighted audiences with the play The Dong with the luminous nose.  When I saw The Dong - and this was when it was already in its second season - I wondered what this group's next step would be.  What more could they get out of the poetry of the absurd, which is close to surrealists, dadaists, and has something in common with the German expressionists.  I was a little afraid that "Cinema" would become a guide to the avant-garde from the beginning of the century.  An avant-garde which rapidly became classical. Which few people today are able to treat as authentic artistic, intellectual or philosophical experience.

A love of convention

After Marcel Duchamp it is hellishly difficult to make the slightest avant-garde gesture without suspicion of plagiarism.  It's not a question of copying the gesture. What is copied is the mechanism. So what drives these four chaps, who are reaching even further - who behave, as if Duchamp had never existed?  They wear suits and bowlers. They look as if they'd come out of Magritte's paintings, or jumped out of a black-and-white film.  They are fascinated by pre-war hit music.  In their plays you can see connections with Tadeusz Kantor, the Academy of Movement, Samuel Beckett, those madmen from Monty Python's Circus...

But they seem to be well on the way to creating their own characteristic and recognisable poetry, which was clearly enough articulated in their play I do not speak of love.  It is a love of pure, refined convention.  It is full of craft. It grows from the belief that an actor is a comedian, a juggler: he should be able to sing, dance, jump rhythmically, keep a straight face.  He does everything that the audience does not see. He should also in the audience's sight cross that barrier that the audience cannot. Fall, get dirty, reveal, open up. Not as a man, but as an actor.

Blue grass

In the latest production four men live in four separate metal sheds. They have their spades, their packets, their teddy bears and various other props - a kit for living.  They also have spades - a kit for dying.  Apparently they work for the city parks;  they were meant to dig downwards, but - no idea why - they are digging upwards and the grass is getting bluer and bluer.

The play has no plot or story.  It is constructed like a poem or a work of jazz - from metaphors, rhythm, from a thickening climate. Particular studies are played out simultaneously, at a furious pace. They are accompanied - like a children's rhyme - by variations on the text: "to the backside something of meat, to the chair something of wood, to the tree something of earth, to the earth something of hole and to the hole..."  Absurd constructions multiply, some of which send shivers down your spine.

The audience laughs a lot - perhaps remembering the wildly witty "Dong", or perhaps as a reaction of defense. I didn't feel like laughing - this play drips horror. These chaps are bleaker and more hopeless than Godot's men.  You feel empty and hollow afterwards. So empty and hollow that you want to do something with your life: with your shed, your packet, your teddy bear, your spade and your love.

Ewa Obrebowska-Piasecka  Gazeta Wyborcza No. 115 18 May 1996

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In clouds of absurdity

The "Cinema" Theatre from Michalowice:  the only Polish surrealists

The Jumblies,  the Dong with the luminous nose and the Akond of Swat are the chief heroes of the "Cinema" Theatre from Michalowice near Jelenia Gora, who have been taking their travelling circus of the absurd around Europe now for three years.

A group of artists from the Gdansk art school and actors from the Wroc³aw Theatre School got together in 1992 to form a theatre, in the tiny village of Micha³owice near Jelenia Góra, which in the Paris of André Breton's surrealist revolution would have been bursting at the seams. Their first production - The Dong is animated by the spirit of Edward Lear, the father of English literature of the absurd, author of the famous "Book of Nonsense", as also by that of René Magritte, the French surrealist painter.  Let's stress at once, that this is a play for children, for nobody appreciates this kind of wit like they do.  However, it seems to have gone to adults' heads too. 

A miracle near Jelenia Góra:  a group of fanatics has created an island of carefree humour, which to us Poles, accustomed to laugh at somebody or something, is something completely unknown, if we leave aside Tuwim and Slonimski.

Carefree humour is laughing at Cinderella smoking a pipe, at an egg hiding from a murderous frying pan, and a desperate sausage, which trembling with fright runs from a greedy eater.  It is laughing at the threatening shout of "Yolk up!" from the actor as he points a revolver at an egg, or at the teeth carrying their extracted colleague off on a stretcher, or at the Milky Way, which has curdled, or at the existentialist motto of the flies: "We fly all our lives - from latrine to latrine."

Zbigniew Szumski, the play's scenographer and director, has put together a play consisting of five "dramas" - variations on a theme of Lear's verses - performed in a fictional Paravan Theatre.  There are two casts that play simultaneously - people, and canvas screens that are pulled across the stage on telegraph wires.

As 1930's dance music comes from the loudspeakers, the actors in bowler hats open to the public their booth full of nonsense, like a stall at a fair, or an exhibition of curiosities from a pre-war funfair.  Instead of the bearded lady or the rubber man, there is a walking teapot, living grocery items, people-matches in red berets, a man-table and a man-chair, a dancing egg, a woman-comet, with her tail discretely fastened under her jacket, not to mention a huge Kentucky Fried Chicken leg on wheels. There are also Jumblies sailing to sea in a sieve, the Dong with the luminous nose, and the Akond of Swat, of whom nobody knows anything.

The show is given form by a delightful visual imagination. Not surprisingly, as its patron is Edward Lear, who was himself a skilled draftsman.  A blue sky borrowed from the paintings of René  Magritte is filled with bowler hats, huge birds and fish.  Onto the stage come hugely magnified objects, animals and body parts, cut out of painted cardboard.  The conjunction of props, music and text reflects nothing but unconstrained fantasy. There's no real plot, simply an exhibition of curiosities: "a man struggling with his conscience, hands taking up arms, a leg getting legless".

These players from Michalowice have only one predecessor in Polish theatre, namely Miron Bialoszewski and his Separate Theatre.  They exploit a similar visual narrative, use commonplace objects and flat cutout figures, reminiscent of of the signboards from Bialoszewski's oratorio Osmêdeusze and the play Nawracacz na W¹.  The human flies who appear in one scene, sitting on a cow and taking refuge from its whisking tail, recall Bialoszewki's Fly paper and the grotesque struggle for living space of the Ceilingers.

Although The Dong is aimed chiefly at children, it captures in its snares of absurdity an adult audience bored with classic comedies.  Cinema is a draught of pure humour, unburdened by the responsibilities of satire, and perhaps that is what today's average Pole is most in need of.

Roman Pawlowski

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"Cinema" Theatre

A billiard hall.  Scene One.  Barroom chairing, closing up, opening up. In praise of penultimate moments - just before closing and just before opening, in which the major part is played by chairs, in the worse or better company of people. The forgotten ones: with chairs on their knees;  with a chair on his back, the pinioned snooker player.

If places had memory and fatigue,  as metal has memory and fatigue.  It would seem that the Place in which we live or have lived is more plastic and better suited to the recording of memory than metal. But the memory of metal is a simple code.  A place can only be the locus of a process. To re-create in memory, and thus to adapt to its illusiveness and its tricks, and so to the involuntary diffusion of plans and images. "Billiards" is a study in describing such a place. The re-creation of transitory situations. Nothing happens here but memories, for example, of the ball, which through the elimination of things 'really worth remembering' is made up of rubbish, compromising situations, bad jokes, sketches 'guaranteed to entertain', persistent dancers, masters  of confetti-tidying, lonely men and women.  Any words in the play should be heard like conversations in a dance. Evening if something important is said, it places no obligation on the other person. And what may be important:  that a fork makes a different stain to a spoon. "And a knife ..."  Play - on the one hand system and precision, on the other a game. The actions of grown-ups who resemble children. The cement that binds them is memory.  Trying to clean it just uncovers more of the layers underneath. But these are not historical layers, just superficially drawn surfaces. Like elevating above history the single layers of everyday existence without looking for their everyday relationships. The great spirits of history don't appear here, there's no place for so-called extreme situations. Here we pay respect  to minor everyday activities re-created in memory and in fatigue ..... . Constructivism, memory and fatigue. There is nothing new in this, and that is why we are grateful to all those whose work has inspired us.

Zbigniew Szumski

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Director’s note: "I had this dream"

"I had this dream" is not a metaphorical play.  Every activity hangs on everyday routine actions. The place that metaphor demands – a garden – is simplified, reduced to an allotment.

We sit among the flowerbeds and frighten off the garden pests. Relaxation effaces us.

The allotment – Scene one. Spring. Then Summer. Autumn. Winter. As in life, or Vivaldi.

The situations are simple, but not necessarily easy to describe. The commentaries are complicated. Even when they try for simplicity.  A play – I don't say the theatre – has to come down on one side or the other.  Enter into situations, or commentate on them.  Cautiously, we have dealt with dreams.

It was the worst possible dream:  allotments – the banality of relaxation, school – the banality of repetition, the snows of yesteryear – the banality of longing.

This performance is dedicated to Akiro Kurosawa and his film "Dreams".

Zbigniew Szumski

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"I had this dream" – reviews

" ...Everything was going wordlessly, at a lazy pace. Characters wearing black “funeral” suits, dressed in bowlers, were conducting strange rituals, looking after the patches, tanning in the non-existent sun. The gestures pried into ordinary people, who cultivate vegetables at the suburban plots – extremely amused once they were implemented in the performance. However the loud laughter was rare. It was rather the inner sense of irrational joy. The recurrence and periodicity of the situations acquired a “ritual” rhythm. Everyday ordinary behaviours turned  into a kind of dance. A dance going on into infinity, obsession…(…) Sometimes the scenes went back to the memory of the childhood, where everything becomes an amusement ground (…). The music gave warm, playful atmosphere (…). I was resting and feeding on the precision in the selection of the rhymes, colours, music, an absurd sense of humour combined with the penetrating observation of the nature and human behaviour".

Tadeusz Korna¶   “Didaskalia”, December 2001

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Die Kunst der Karambolage

Cinema Teatr aus Polen spielt ´Billard´ an der Gessnerallee

Bereits das Eröffnungsbild ist so bezwingend, dass man seine Ästhetik als neue Masseinheit ausrufen möchte: ein CT (für Cinema Teatr) ist künftig die Mindestnorm, die wir für Gastspiele in der Gessnerallee verlangen. ´Billard´, die neuste Produktion der Gruppe um Zbigniew Szumski, garantiert jede Spielminute ein CT und entlässt uns nach 80 Minuten illuminiert durch eine Kunsterfahrung der dritten Art. Doch wer kann von mitteleuropäischen Gruppen einen ähnlichen Impetus verlangen wie hier, wo in der tiefsten polnischen Provinz armes Theater nicht gemacht, sondern gelebt wird?            

Das Eröffnungsbild: ein schäbig ausgeleuchteter Käfig (ein Basketball-Gitter) mit Billardtisch und zwanzig unterschiedlichen Holzstühlen, auf allen Ebenen im Raum verteilt, ist nett dekoriert mit Damen, fünf Farbtupfer als süsses Versprechen, so nutzlos über die Assmblage drapiert wie die unvermeidliche Petersilie auf dem Tellerrand. Bereits die Spielanlage dieses wunderbar verwundenden Abends verrat, hier ist ein komplexer Gestaltungswille am Werk. Es ist die Person Zbigniew Szumski, Maler, Bühnenbildner und Autor von ´Billard´, einem Spiel um Vergeblichkeit und Erinnerung. Szumski ist ein Beispiel für die polnische Theater-Avantgarde dieses Jahrhunderts, die sich um die Lagierung von bildender Kunst und Theater bemüht, Tadeusz Kantor vor Augen, Tadeusz Kantor im Kopf.            

Doch Szumski – eine Entdeckung der Gessnerallee am Wegrand, jenseits der Festival-Hauptachse, auf der die immergleichen Künstler zwieschen Taormina und Tottenham verschoben werden – geht den dritten, den eigenen Weg. Wohl öffnet er sich, wie Kantor, mit expressiven, grotesken, metaphorischen und surrealistischen Elementen einer konkreten Realität, doch diese steht auf einem anderen Grund; auf einer Lebenbejahung und Siecherheit, die nicht ins Bodenlose abrutscht wie jene des grossen Meisters mit pessimisticher Weltsicht (und traumatischer Welterfahrung). Szumskis Erinnerungsarbeit ist keine Trauerarbeit, Traumarbeit eher. Die erinnerungsräume, die er afreisst, siend Hallräume der Kindheit, der Stimmen und gesten und der heutigen Anstrengungen als Erwachsener, das alte Spiel spielen zu müssen, das da heiist: Partnersuche.            

Und wie findig siê sind, die Spieler, in der Kreation immer neuer Regeln und in der Absicht, yum Stoss yu kommen; was hier, in der Billard-Metapher meint: mit dem Queue die Kugel-Dame an der richtigen Position zu touchiren, um Lauf und Lage zu beeinflussen. Das gescheieht bei Szumski auf einer handfest realistischen Ebene – oder wird zumindest versucht –, doch öfters in Abarten und auf Abwegen phantastischer ausprägung, minimalistisch reduziert und in zärtlichster Verzweiflung. Das Scheitern ist auch ein Naturgesetz.            

Ein Scheitern, aber auf welchem Niveau! Das neunköpfige Ensemble scheint von einer Jahrhundert-Müdigkeit befallen und macht schon deshalb nicht viele Worte; Texte sind so wenig wichtig ´wie ein Tanzgespräch´ (also belanglos, gemäss Szumski). Um so heftiger wird auf tatkräftige Art. Versucht, sich in eine verteilhafte Lage zu bringen, mit kleinstmöglichem Gestus: ´Jan. K., Pol., 50kg´ deklariert ein Ringer auf einem Schild, bevor er sich an die Dame seiner Wahl macht – statt das Queue mit Kreide stäubt er die Hände mit Magnesium ein. Der Kunststoss auf Brusthöhe scheitert jämmerlich, die zwei weiblichen ´Bälle´ verweigern sich jeder Berührung. Andere (Vor-) Stoss-Richtungen und Spielarten sind subtiler und so, als hätte Woody Allen souffliert; eine Partywird zum Fest der Kleinlichkeiten und Peinlichkeiten und endet in Beziehungs-Karambolagen und anderen Unfällen; Fouls sind erlaubt, und sadistische Erniedrigungs-Rituale gleichgeschelechtlicher Mitspieler werden durch Wegsehen der anderen sanktioniert – man kümmert sich ausschliesslich um sich selbst und das Publikum. Denn obschon die Figur des Scheidsrichters nicht existiert, ist klar, dass wie die Jury sind und das Spiel uns als innere Voraussetzung braucht.            

Ordnung und Chaos, Objekt und Subjekt, Mann und Frau – der Versuch, Kategorien und Paarungen zu bilden, die Welt in eine menschliche Logik zu zwingen, ist bei Szumski ein hoffnungsloses Unternehmen. Das wissen seine Figuren und beginnen das Spiel doch immer wieder von neuem. ´Billard´ ist das Gegenteil des Königsdramas, das Drama des kleinen Mannes. Und selten fanden wir uns derart klein – und lächerlich grossartig.

Neue Züricher Zeitung      Daniele Muscionico

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The great Spring cycle starts  (??)  

(...) Szumski's play is a characteristically Polish spectacle:  it recalls both Abakanowicz's petrified forest of statues, and also (in its surrealism) the progressive, intriguing Polish poster art of the 70's and 80's.  The performers too, dressed up in suits as if for some special occasion at a factory, look like figures from the feature films of that period.

(..) Szumski knows his actors in depth:  he constructs the play from them, literally – from their body, age, features and temperament.  In the repetitive structure of the play unexpected elements – a gesture, object or sound - appear like comets.  Assembled from everyday gestures laid bare, situations shockingly juxtaposed, and wrenchingly intimate signs, this is an exceptional performance which endures in our memories.

Tamás Halász    Szinház (Theatre)  January 2002

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