Love Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays @ Teatr Sztuk, Gdańsk, Poland, 2014Adaptation

  • Magdalena Cieślak

“Sceny miłosne z dramatów Szekspira” – Love Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays (based on Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth)

dir. Ewelina Ciszewska, Teatr Sztuk, Wrocław

performed by Ewelina Ciszewska and Krzysztof Roszko

videos – Robert Baliński

music – Marcin Krzyżanowski

Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre, Summer with Shakespeare cycle, 29 July 2014

Reviewed by Magdalena Cieślak


fig. 1 romeo and juliet 1

fig. 1 romeo and juliet 1

fig. 2 romeo and juliet 2

fig. 2 romeo and juliet 2

Shakespeare without words is nothing new, but Shakespeare without words, with pantomime and elements of acrobatics, with powerful background video images, and with electrifying live accompaniment of an electric cello is quite a new experience, especially when set in the yard of the brand new Shakespeare Theatre in Gdańsk.

The Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre is a beautiful minimalist building of black brick. While the final works are still continuing, its yard is already hosting a “Summer with Shakespeare” cycle. Love Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays, a show by Teatr Sztuk from Wrocław, is the first performance of the cycle.

fig. 3 macbeth 1

fig. 3 macbeth 1

There were only a few people standing in the audience and the feel of a rehearsal was still there, but the magic of the theatre was already fully operational. Ewelina Ciszewska and Krzysztof Roszko performed two pieces based on love narratives – one from Romeo and Juliet, as could be expected, and the other from Macbeth, a much less expected choice – both captivating and both distinctly different. To help identify the plays, the pieces used famous scenes as a set-up – the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet (fig. 1) and the dagger scene in Macbeth.

In Romeo and Juliet  the relationship between the characters was shown as a push-pull one, and contrasted Juliet’s strength and determination with Romeo’s shyness and passivity. The climactic if dramatically temporary moment of the couple’s ecstatic consummation of their desire was shown in a comically sensual way – both mimes put on candy floss/cloud-like cloth around their waists (fig. 2) and started nibbling at each other, first shyly and then more and more hungrily. One could almost feel the sweetness of their ecstasy. When they were afterwards separated, through an implied misunderstanding or confusion, it seemed to say that love, like candy floss, is a fragile thing. The accompanying cello, quite lyrical but with a rhythmical background beat, and the black-and-white video of fast-moving clouds helped to save the romantic atmosphere of the piece from any trace of cheesiness.

fig. 4 macbeth 2

fig. 4 macbeth 2

Although Macbeth is not necessarily a piece that is thought of as a love story, the relationship between Macbeth and his wife is tense enough, and Teatr Sztuk made it into a fascinating show. Again, like in Romeo and Juliet, the woman was the driving force of the emotional narrative. Rough music and aggressive visuals – a big full moon covered with dynamically moving and threatening clouds – helped to highlight the drama of what was happening between the characters. The costumes from Romeo and Juliet – Juliet’s snow-white dress and Romeo’s doublet– were spiced up by headwear. Lady Macbeth was sporting an orange horn-shaped hat/wig/crown, and Macbeth had a mohawk-style orange hair (fig. 3). The piece followed particular key moments in the couple’s life. After Macbeth killed Duncan (stabbing an empty chair in a compulsive repetitive movement echoing the compulsive repetitive nagging of Lady Macbeth), he climbed up the wall and for a long while remained suspended against the wall, dangling quite helplessly on a safety rope, unable to make any sensible moves (fig. 4). The background video then changed into a mass of orange smoke, creating a sense of restlessness and violence. Finally, Lady Macbeth, who had been obsessively rubbing off the blood stains, stopped it off to pull her husband back to the ground. She then forced him into Duncan’s chair, sat behind him, and tried to revive the helpless puppet he had become.

The pieces did not aim at offering the plays’ stories, but chose the most intense moments from the protagonists’ relationships and showed how they had arrived at that point and how they were dealing with it. Using only mime, music and visual background, Love Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays could be quite elusive for audiences unfamiliar with Shakespeare, although the director made sure to make strong connections to the plays. Still, they pieces communicated the tension between the characters and the drama of their love struggles.

Visually the pieces were beautiful. The costumes were so white that they shone in the dusk; the props  – the candy-floss waistwear, the chair and the dagger – were very simple and very white. The background visuals were also minimalist, subtly increasing the sense of fear and drama. Music was captivating and unobtrusive, smoothly blending in with the actors’ movement. And the acting was superb, drawing from pantomime but more natural and casual, theatrical but not pompous, and showing how miraculously Shakespeare’s words can be communicated through the poetics of movement. Finally, the yard of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre, its walls dark and rough, its shape curveless and mathematically precise, is a promising space that can open up Shakespeare to new forms and readings.

Photos: Piotr Manasterski, courtesy of Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre


Magdalena Cieślak

Author: Magdalena Cieślak

Magdalena Cieślak is Assistant Professor at the Department of Studies in Drama and Pre-1800 Literature at the University of Łódź, where she teaches literature, specifically Renaissance drama, literary theory and cultural studies. She is a member of an interdepartmental and interdisciplinary academic team at the International Shakespeare Studies Centre (ISSC) whose aim is to conduct research on Shakespeare’s works and his presence in Polish and global culture. She is, with Agnieszka Rasmus, our Co-Associate Editor for Poland.