Close Strangers Festival 2021 is a project inspired by the inability to communicate in conventional theatrical ways during the pandemic. This performance has a longer history, and is made up of pieces of a previous project undertaken by the same team: “’MY’ project”. The “’MY’ project” collected documentary testimonies from the pandemic of people living their lives. For some, pandemic life was lived on the front line but for others, some of this life was spent at pandemic raves. The footage captured and shared in both of these theatrical pursuits, offers a rare and intimate look into life as it really was. It doesn’t seek to blame and it projects no moral judgement, it is simply a way to capture human reaction to a trauma none of us could imagine we’d live through.

In the darkness of Teatr Polski, discordant notes are wringed from a violin at the hands of Ostap Manko. On the stage alongside him is the pianist Witold Oleszak, whose jazz background is detectable but shrouded in his acrimonious playing. Overwhelmingly, makes you uncomfortable. It challenges the way we interpret music and pushes us to the limit of interpretation. At times, the audience are lodged within loops of repetitive sound which are then immediately shattered by the jerks of Witold. It is hard to detect a pattern or to predict the nature of the music, which I believe is entirely the point.

Whilst this jarring backing track pulsates in the background, a silent video montage is played on the screen behind. As with the instruments, this is stilted, repetitive and fragmented. Linearity is not permitted a place in this performance. The most frequently repeated motif is that of a bonfire, burning throughout the whole performance. This is layered between flashes of reality. Earlier in the day I had been fortunate enough to discuss this event with the artistic director, Agata Siwiak. Unfortunately, Sashko Brama (the director of the video) couldn’t attend the performance due to an ongoing suffering with long Covid. This was a price he chose to pay in order for us to watch what we did this evening. I think this tells you everything you need to know about the honest pursuit of a story. For myself and Agata, this was hard to understand and led to a discussion around the importance of the self. Yet, at the great sacrifice of his own self, Sashko has managed to depict through sound and imagery the many selves of the pandemic communities.

What is perhaps most shocking is the other-worldliness of this performance. I left disturbed, but not because memories had been refreshed. I felt disturbed as if witnessing something unknown and unnatural. How is this the case when we have all suffered and some are still suffering from Covid today, all around the world?

The music in particular, helps you to package up what you see in a neat, fictional box of dystopian theatre. For a while though, this dystopia was our reality and apparently it’s easy to forget.