As I sit down with Kamila Siwinska there is glorious late summer sunshine outside the Teatr Polski in Poznan it is the last day of the Close Strangers festival. Actors nearby are rehearsing lines for their last show while drinking strong black coffee. The theatre is a bustle of activity and preparation for their last show and most ambitious production as well as preparing for their critically acclaimed Hamlet which starts as soon as the festival ends. No rest for Teatr Polski – not sleep nor chance to dream.
Kamila is a young director who has worked in Poznan many times having studied photography and theatre here. She is currently working on a performance that will be performed in November called 28 days.
The theme is menstruation (28 days being the average menstrual cycle) and Kamila is keen to show through the play that “attitudes to women’s biology are tied to violence. But it’s the attitude of both women and men because it’s a problem of our Catholic, patriarchal society.”
However, while the play will address primarily Polish society, it was a story from the UK that inspired her in the first place. When musician Kiran Gandhi ran the London marathon while on her period without a tampon, it was a big scandal. But for Kamila, it was eye-opening. “I asked myself what if someone did this in Poland? I’m not sure if it would be a scandal, or if we would simply not talk about it, pretend we didn’t see it. Which would show that the problem goes much deeper.” Kamila argues that it is this silence – the taboo of womanhood – that leads to violence. Challenging this will be at the heart of the play.
This is not the first time Kamila has addressed contentious issues. Most of her performances talk about women. Her last show at the Teatr Polski in Poznan was ‘Trojanki’ in 2016. Based on the work of Euripides, it was at the height of the refugee crisis and the war in Syria and at the same time, there was a series of terror attacks in Paris. The world was an increasingly violent and uncaring place. The play had a Greek chorus of women who are “observing all the mess” and it is them who say in the end “Mother Earth, give us back our brothers, our children and our husbands.”
Like many of the people I meet at the Close Strangers festival, Kamila sees the role of theatre to challenge the status quo and “be a voice in the discussion that only exists because of theatre.”
Returning to the theme of 28 days, Kamila says “I believe the theatre has more power and more energy to deepen this conversation” Theatre goers can come to the show and “go through the process of thinking about [menstruation]and that’s because I’m now going through that process and the actors go through that process. To understand something more about an issue that you don’t want to talk about.”
The cast is mostly women though there is one male actor but in the text, Kamila says he is just a “tool of violence.” This is not to say this is the view of all men (#notallmen) but that the man in the play represents the violent patriarchal society. And it is this that Kamila and 28 days explore.
As we go to leave the sun shines brightly and for a moment the violence of Kamila’s play feels a long way away. But the reality of patriarchal oppression is never very far away – in Poland or in the UK.
28 days will be performed at Teatr Polski, Poznan in early November.