The Boska Komedia festival (“Divine Comedy”) in Krakow is one of the highlights of Polish theatre season. Each year, during 10 days in December, this international gathering is a mix of showcase and competition, adding a new twist to the national anthem: “Poland has not yet perished… as long as theatre lives.” Here is a report from its 9th edition.

 Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita – I didn’t find myself in a dark wood, but in the vibrant city of Krakow, bursting with energy, overwhelmed by Christmas festivities – sweet, noisy and luminous. The old town centre is sprinkled with the festival’s billboards. The Dantesque metaphor  is extended up to the end, with a press service renamed “Charon’s Team,” and shows divided in three categories: Inferno, a selection of ten Polish shows from the 2015-2016 season, competing for the best show of the year title and the Divine Comedy prize (since 2008, Lupa won twice the best directing prize, and Warlikowski once); Paradiso, eight productions by young talents, judged by an international jury of curators from Israel, New Zeland and South Korea; finally, Purgatory complements the programme, a sort of catch-all of performances and related events, among which there are a few international premieres.

In the sumptuous Baroque Italian-style Juliusz Slowacki theatre, we attend The Plastics, by Grzegorz Wisniewski, a depiction of a bourgeois family stuck in their contradictions. A pale imitation of Woodcutters, the directing unfortunately doesn’t have Lupa’s subtlety, Mayenburg’s text (Stück Plastik), or the strength of Thomas Bernhard. Yet, there are a few striking moments, especially in the sharpest scenes on the artistic pretenses of the conformist left-wing intellectuals personified by the Serge Haulupa character; we could definitely picture him as the herald of decadence in Warlikowski’s The French.

Stanislaw Wyspianski’s The Wedding directed by Jakub Roszkowski

White Power, Black Memory, by Piotr Ratajczak, is meant to be a crackdown project, but in the end, it is rather flailing in the air. This blow against right-wing extremists (racists, anti-Semites, and pretty much everyone who is huddled up in religious or traditional values) targets a sensitive point of contemporary Poland but is served badly by a rather clumsy directing and a way too much literal text.

Far from any political ambition, Krzysztof Garbaczewski focuses on the ontological. In the theatre Laznia Nowa (one of Krakow’s postindustrial highlights), he adapts Miroslaw Nahacz’s hallucinatory novel Robert Robur. The result is a remarkable show, plentiful of visual and auditory ideas. The young Polish director manages to convey the disturbed and humorous atmosphere of the novel, served by impeccable actors and a real stage intelligence, despite its excess of exuberance. Read our full-length review (in French) on I/O Gazette n°48.

At the Multikino, A Short Outline of Everything is directed by Teo Dumski: it’s an ambitious project from the Cloud Theatre company. It tells the story of mankind through thirty or so live paintings, a mix between physical performance and computer-generated imagery (drawings made live by Sebastian Siepietowski), thanks to a camera placed above the set and projecting outlines and shapes on a movie screen. It is a highly impressive show, deeply poetic, but a little lengthy; furthermore, it depends only on its highly technological concept without a real point of view on the selected historical sequences.

Bartosz Szydlowski, the festival artistic director (and director of the Laznia Nowa theatre) plays the role of our Beatrix in these Divine Comedy lands. We will go on, for a few days, back and forth all around the city and its fifteen or so venues taking part in the festival; among them, the rally point, the Bunkier Sztuki art gallery, and its next door café. At the end of the programme, prizes are awarded: the main festival prize went to Michal Borczuch for All About My Mother. Wiktor Rubin won best directing for We Get What We Believe In. As for young talents, Magda Szpecht was awarded for her Schubert. A Romantic Composition on Twelve Actors and a String Quartet. Prizes or no prizes, there is no doubt that, in the land of Tadeusz Kantor and Krystian Lupa, theatre is king.

White Power, Black Memory by Piotr Ratajczak

Boska Komedia festival, Krakow, December 7-17, 2016.

This article was originally published in I/O Gazette n°48.  Reposted and translated by the author. Read the original article in French.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.