Directed by Jan Klata for Teatr Polski in Wrocław and Staatsschauspiel Dresden at Teatr Wybrzeże, Gdańsk Shakespeare Festival, Poland. 3 August 2013.
Reviewed by Aneta Mancewicz
As a co-production between Teatr Polski in Wrocław and Staatsschauspiel Dresden, Jan Klata’s Titus Andronicus premiered in Wrocław on 15 September 2012 and in Dresden on 28 September 2012. In 2013 the show was invited to the Gdańsk Shakespeare Festival, where I witnessed it as a member of an international audience. The acting was highly physical, and it was interwoven with death metal and pop music (arranged by Klata) and with highly inventive video imagery (video surtitles by Lorenz Schuster and Agnieszka Fietz). The surtitles were embedded into the performance choreography (by Maćko Prusak), and they not only translated but also complemented the dialogues.
Klata opened his production with a striking image. When the triumphant Titus (Wolfgang Michalek) arrives in Rome with corpses of his twenty-one sons, he himself brings them in flight cases onto the stage. In a long sequence accompanied by death metal music of the Polish group Behemoth, the cases are piled up in front of the audience, with Titus making a symbolic gesture of shedding tears over each of them. Klata’s grotesque and music-driven interpretation of the play from the beginning unsettles the spectators. The Polish director presents the tragic conflict in Shakespeare’s drama not so much as a confrontation of characters as a clash of cultures. Casting German and Austrian actors as Romans, while Poles as Goths (with the exception of the Polish actress Paulina Chapko as Lavinia), he exploits historical traumas, as well as xenophobic stereotypes that haunt the history of Central and Eastern Europe.
Romans in black and white (costumes by Justyna Łagowska and Mateusz Stępniak) wear boots and t-shirts with iconic images from the Warsaw uprising in 1944, evoking the horror of Nazism and WWII. In this context, Titus emerges as a soldier blindly following the rules. His violent killing of Mutius (Sascha Göpel) is not an act of madness, but is consistent with his military background and his absolute obedience to a repressive state ideology. Titus is driven by duty rather than emotion, as suggested at the burial of his sons. Juxtaposed with self-possessed Romans, Goths appear as overemotional and chaotic. Vulgar and simple, dressed in cheap and colourful clothes, they embody the stereotype of uneducated and impoverished immigrants. Meanwhile, Tamora (Ewa Skibińska) riding in a skimpy dress on a block of ice incarnates the phantasy of a passionate Eastern European woman. The discord between the two groups is further reinforced by Aaron (Wojciech Ziemiański), who fuels the hostility between the characters and acts as a messenger of evil. Performed by a white actor painted in black, with a gigantic phallus and a large horn attached to his forehead, Aaron functions as an incarnation of devil and a representation of racial prejudices.
The Romans and Goths are divided, however, not only by historical circumstances and social stereotypes, but also by linguistic barriers. Polish and German-speaking actors perform in their own languages, which sometimes leads to misunderstandings between the characters. The script relies on two distinctive translations of Titus Andronicus, Maciej Słomczyński’s translationinto Polish and Wolf von Baudissin’s into German, and it contains extensive passages from Heiner Müller’s Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome: A Shakespeare Commentaryin the German original and in a Polish version by Monika Muskała. The text is a result of Polish-German collaboration between Piotr Rudzki and Ole Georg Graf.
Stereotypes and linguistic misunderstandings underlie the tragedy, but they also lead to comic situations. The most memorable combination of tragedy and comedy occurs when Chiron (Marcin Pempuś) and Demetrius (Michał Majnicz) are trying to translate the story of Lavinia’s rape from German by relying on phonetic similarities between German and Polish words. The scene humorously exploits local references, as well as allusions to Polish-German relations, while the content of the translated text is shocking in its evocation of violence.
There is yet another layer to Klata’s crude and cruel exploitation of European traumas and stereotypes. By foregrounding the tragic consequences of linguistic and cultural misunderstandings, Klata makes an important comment about the transformation of the Shakespearean text on contemporary international stages and the changing patterns of cultural transmission and exchange. His production seems to be suggesting that we need to find new ways of communicating between languages and cultures – not only in non-Anglophone performance of Shakespeare, but also in our increasingly globalised world.
Aneta Mancewicz is Lecturer in Drama at Kingston University, UK. Her book publications include Intermedial Shakespeares on European Stages (Palgrave Macmillan 2014) and Biedny Hamlet [Poor Hamlet] (Ksiegarnia Akademicka Press 2010). She was Marie Curie Research Fellow at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London (2011-2013), and Kosciuszko Foundation Fellow at Theatre Department, Graduate Center, City University of New York (2010-2011). She is the Editor for Europe at the Global Shakespeares Video & Performance Archive, curated by MIT and a co-convener of the Intermediality in Theatre and Performance working group of the IFTR.