20190912 Teatr Polski w Poznaniu Bliscy Nieznajomi f/ Marek Zakrzewski

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful Times – Close Strangers Festival


Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful Times is a fascinating play deserving of a wider audience and greater understanding.

That I am saying that having experienced it delivered in Ukrainian with only a Polish translation and a summary I was only able to read after the event makes it even more extraordinary.

This is a complex and layered piece. It plays with conventions of theatre, with actors frequently coming out of character to comment on the parts they are playing, their motives and meanings. It is set both in Post-war Vienna and also here, now, today in this theatre.

The main characters are four young people and four older folk. The youths are a brother and sister as well as a boy both girls desire and a girl both boys idolise. The adults are the parents of one boy, the mother of the other and the uncle of the last girl.

All families have secrets and in the febrile post-war period, these families have more than most.  Domestic violence, war crimes, pornography, insurrection. All are covered as the drama spills from the guts of its protagonists.

The play is soaked in violence. The meaning of violence, the impact of violence and the impact of being inured to violence. The older characters all took part in the war (though the actors playing them are at pains to point out they did not and as a result can only imagine the violence their characters have experienced) and have their scars mentally and physically. The young people grew up in a world where violence was normalised. They saw the war, discovered the holocaust, and saw the domestic violence their ‘innocent criminal’ father metes out. That they turn to violence is almost inevitable. Violence begets violence.

The staging is sparse and – fitting with the otherworldly nature of the script – somewhat surreal. Sometimes on-the-nose obvious, sometimes obscure – like a joke the director is having with herself. But this adds to the intriguing nature of the drama and the constant sense that you can’t be quite sure what to expect.

I’ve never sat through a play in a language I don’t speak before without subtitles. I expect that had this been a lesser work, I would have cried off trying to write this review. Citing the language barrier as an excuse. Instead, I went straight to the nearest bar, sat down and read through the scene by scene precis I had been given but couldn’t read in the dark of the theatre and pieced it back together.

I’m delighted I did. It was worth it. This was a rewarding play to watch without understanding the language. But in hindsight, this added insight has led to a greater understanding of the work and it has had a profound impact on me.