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Krzysztof Warlikowski
He began as follows: “It was one of the strangest entrance exams. Before the board had seen this darkhaired boy with his charming air it had highly appreciated his staging of Maeterlinck’s The Blind; a refined vision, full of associations and personal references. “H’m! Interesting,” they said, then they looked at the photos. “H’m! H’m!” they said, for the photos showed a charming face, the type of face that makes an impression, and not only on women. Then, this dark-haired young man appeared in heavy shoes with very high heels (he was undoubtedly not very tall, though not all that small), said hello, and sat in the place assigned. For much of the conversation, devoted to the defence of his staging, he remained silent. He repeated the question asked and reflected for such a long time and in such a way that one of the members of the board, unable to hold out, would break in with the next question or the answer. On several occasions, however, the board managed to wait until the end of the reflection, and the answer eventually came, pronounced in a soft tone, with carefully distilled words; an answer so personal and so hermetic that it was difficult to know whether it should be considered very deep or incomplete.” These are the recollections of Krystian Lupa, a member of the admissions board in the theatre directing department of the State Higher School of Theatre in Krakow, PWST. Lupa was subsequently Krzysztof Warlikowski’s teacher, and undoubtedly had a great influence on his theatre. He passed on to him the fundamental belief that the theatre is a laboratory of truth in which one untangles the meaning of that which is unknown, ungraspable, and that it has an essential influence on the life of men. Lupa calls these attempts “a voyage towards the ungraspable”. Warlikowski is less interested in this  ungraspable and indescribable remoteness. He is more concerned with the ungraspable proximity, in what is unnamable in each of us, what is hidden, rejected, what awakens anguish, stops us from sleeping, which sometimes reveals terrifying passions and which at the same time makes us so human. Among his masters he counts Krystian Lupa, Peter Brook, Ingmar Bergman, and Giorgio Strehler. This practice of the discipline of theatre with the Western masters perhaps led to a happy union, unusual and very fertile, of unbridled Eastern spirituality and an orderly, disciplined vision. This brought about symbiosis between a way of acting based on the most intimate experience of the actors, on the most hermetic problems, and an open approach based on direct communication with the audience. In Warlikowski’s next productions, the audience is involved more and more in the discussion, participation and creation and the emotional material of the performance. Krzysztof Warlikowski began practising theatre in the second half of the 1990s. From his first productions one can see his interest in the best dramatic literature: above all Shakespeare, Koltès, Sophocles, Euripides, Sarah Kane, and recently Tony Kushner. From the beginning, in The Merchant of Venice (1994), there emerged one of the most important themes in Warlikowski’s theatre: his interest in the Jewish question, read through the perspective of the Holocaust. HANNA KRALL, the famous Polish writer whose short story Dybuk has become part of Warlikowski’s work together with the drama by Szymon Anski, speaks of the four pillars of Warlikowski’s theatre: the Bible, Shakespeare, antiquity and the Holocaust. His collaboration with the troupe of the Teatr Rozmaitozci with his first production, Hamlet, in 1999, has had a decisive influence on his theatre. Directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna, a few years younger than him, the Rozmaitozci has become a refuge of new theatre, a place that has imposed a new style on theatrical expression, a new way of acting and of communicating with the audience. Thanks to Warlikowski’s productions here (he has directed Hamlet, The Bacchae, Cleansed, The Tempest, Dibbouk, Kroum and Angels in America), themes that in Poland had previously been surrounded by powerful taboos have been introduced into public discourse: the problem of blame and pardon in relation to the Jewish nation and the Holocaust, issues related to sexual identity and homosexuality, false religiosity in Poland and the search for new religious possibilities. Its audacity and its open manner of dealing with issues buried under a conspiracy of silence and protected by the leaden cloak of hypocrisy have rapidly led Warlikowski’s theatre to be labelled as scandalous in Poland. Warlikowski rejects the attacks and claims that it is not his theatre that is scandalous, but reality. And theatre must discuss this scandal. Warlikowski feels clearly responsible for his audience. With them he enters into an intense, profound discussion that does not allow mental stagnation – all this linked to extremely powerful emotions, for the actors and for the audience. It is difficult to embrace all Krzysztof Warlikowski’s theatre productions. It is also difficult to believe such an intensive progress, the speed with which he has become a master, one of the greats of theatre and opera.
Piotr Grszcszynski