Warlikowski makes your head swim with ‘(A)pollonia’

Once in a while, you go to a performance, and afterwards it feels as if you’ve seen not one but at least ten performances. Know what I mean? An abundance of ideas and images that leave you speechless. It happened to me last weekend, and I still haven’t recovered from it. Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski really made my head swim with his (A)pollonia, at Théâtre National (Brussels). So: no more theatre, please. For at least a week or two. There are some things that I need to think over.

A guy in a long coat, talking. About the war. About having to pull the trigger. About having to comply to orders. About the thin line between being a righteous person and someone who will murder another human being. His story was clearly rooted in the Second World War. But at the same time it felt as if he was really talking to me. Right now. In this day and age. What he said made sense.

Later on, I had that same feeling. But then some mythological Greek figures were talking to me, about revenge and remorse. But again: it felt as if, just a minute earlier, they had switched off their mobile phones. It’s one of the many things Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski pulls off, during (A)pollonia. It premiered at last summer’s Avignon Festival, but was now brought to Brussels for three sold out performances by Théâtre National and De Munt/La Monnaie.

It really is a dizzying theatre marathon (4 hours), which makes you understand why Warlikowski is being called one of today’s great European theatre directors. He neatly mixes Euripides (Alcestis) and Aeschylus (Oresteia) with Jonathan Littell (Les bienveillantes), Hanna Krall (Apollonia) and JM Coetzee (Elizabeth Costello), to begin with.

And then there’s all the rest he throws in during these four hours. In between acts, there’s a band playing. Other scenes get just the right kind of sound scape. Somebody (sometimes even an actor) is filming the acting on stage and Warlikowski has those images projected on the back wall. So as an audience member, you get theatre and film at the same time. And then there’s all the striking visual images or details he comes up with. And the way he can shift the tone and change the decor by using two see-through containers which can be moved around on stage. Oh, and of course: some of the acting is outstanding. Take the beginning of the second part, for instance. One actress, capturing the attention of the audience (somewhat tired by then)  by delivering a lecture? A real tour de force.

There’s one negative aspect to all of this. When you’ve seen somebody setting the bar that high, it gets even more difficult to accept mediocrity. Oh boy. But there’s one thing to look forward to as well. Warlikowski is coming back to Brussels in June 2010, for Verdi’s Macbeth at De Munt/La Monnaie. During his Médée in 2008 I saw Amy Winehouse parade on stage. What will he come up with this time?

More info about Macbeth, here.

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