Mark Fisher goes outdoors in Warsaw to find a Polish Macbeth with the taste
of Iraq and the raw of
he words Bitiro l’odi‘o/y‘ translate as
travel agency. It‘s a phrase you see on
shop fronts all over Poland. perhaps not least in these days of mass emigration. lior the keen l“ringe-goer that comes as a surprise. Nobody who saw ('urmen lame/ire (Funeral Song) by 'l'eatr Bitiro l’odro/y' in the playground of Drummond (‘ommunity High School for a few fleeting days in 1995 will forget its atmospheric evocation of the war in Bosnia. fire blazing while masked figures on stilts got frighteningly close. It was the surprise hit of that year's Fringe and has since been seen in 27 countries. plus a return run at the Old (‘ollege Quad in lidinbtirgh the following year. Travel Agency Theatre is. therefore. a fitting name for a company so tirelessly on the more. but if yoti didn‘t know better you could beliey'e they had offices all oy'et' Poland.
Rather than that. the name harks back to the company‘s early years in a post-communist country when suddenly no one was interested in theatre any more. (‘apitalism had arriy'ed and there was too much shopping to be done. Instead of admitting defeat. director Paw'el S/kotak resolved that if the people wouldn't come to the theatre. he would take the theatre to the people.
‘ln 1992 we decided to make our first open air performance.‘ says Marta Str/alko. actor. administrator and self-styled 'mother of the company". ‘It was the transition period and nobody went to the theatre. It was not important.
54 THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE 2—9 Aug 20C.“
Shops. money. these were the targets. not art. So we went otit to meet the spectator. We enjoyed the esperience \ery much because the audience in the open air is more free. It's much more y'iolent which is nice because it's challenging for an actor to tame it. \\'e enioy ed it so much that we just kept making open air perfiii'iiiaiices.'
'l'htis we liiid ourselyes on a pleasant \Varsaw ey‘ening in a public park awaiting a pci'foi'iiiance (ll. .i/(lt'lh'l/l.’ ll'llr) /_y i/‘IIH/ [Hum/lied .l/(HI. 'l‘he actors haye marked otit their territory in an open square. placing sey en raw—looking tree trunks in a circle in front of a platform hidden behind a metal grating. The audience is gathering casually on a set of steps to ensure a good \ iew.
liy'en at this early point in the eyening. with the performers i‘ey y'ing their motorbikes in preparation. you sense something unusual about 'l‘eatr Bitiro l’odro/y: w here other outdoor theatre companies are fun and fantastical (usually the lirenchl or ftiii and ferocious (the ('atalansi. this lot hayc no qualms about taking lieayyw eight
‘IT IS A PERFORMANCE ABOUT PEOPLE WHO HAVE BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS’
drama onto the stieets. \Vitli stilt walking. burning torches and an opciatic siiigei oyeiseeing the action. they certainly liaye a sense of the spectacular. bill they don't equate playing to a popular audience with sei'y iiig up my ia. lllt‘ll\ is a theatre lliat Is l‘tflll accessible and serious.
‘\\'e wanted to test oiii skills in the open air attd to see if we weie able to coiiyert \lacbetli into the language of images where the dialogue is reduced to a minimumf says Str/alko about a performance that is wordless btit lot a few cyplanatoi'y passages. "\Ve always wanted to show something more than entertainment. It's a theatre only w itliotit the roof.
'.y\llcr tlie c\pcrieiicc of ('(irmi'li lime/m; I would say. yes. in the open air we can show performances with a strong message.‘ says S/kotak. tlie ~12 year old director whose image based style was initially a response to communist era censorship at the end of the I‘Nfs. ‘\\'e liaye trayclled all oyer the world and met people from many countries and many traditions and oiii [X'rformances are clear for the spectators'
l.ike (il/‘iiit'li l'llllt’lH't’ before it. this l/m lief/i is a response to tltc horrors of a world at war \Vliei‘c preyiotisly it was the loi'mei Yugoslayia. now it is Iraq. although audiences around the world tend to find parallels of their ow ii. S/kotak uses Slitikc‘siic‘;ii't"s play to demonstrate the bloody consequences of unbridled ambition. He doesn‘t make esact parallels t.\lacbet|i is iicithei (ieoi‘ge Hush nor Saddam lltisseiiii. but there is imagery enough from an .-\bii (ihraibistyle naked prisoner in a cage to stiltwalking witches in white btirqas to make its conteiiiporai'y releyance. With each death another tree trunk falls. giying a palpable sense of the unstoppable iuggeriiaut of war.
"l'hc Iraq war started to be \cry important to people.‘ says S/kotak. esplaiiiing his choice of Shakespearch play. 'lilll there is also the war in .-\fghanistan and World War ll still c\sts in our memory. So I couldn't say this is a play about the Iraq war as much as it is a performance about people who haye blood on their hands. like Macbeth and like other soldiers.‘ He is naming no names. but then he doesn't lime to.
Macbeth: Who Is that Bloodied Man, Old College Quad, 662 8740, 5-27 Aug (not 16, 17), 10pm, £11 (£8).