You know it’s going to be an intense show when, before the play begins, you’re told that once you enter you’re not allowed to leave until the show has finished. It becomes even more ominous when you have to enter the theatre space by walking over a woman curled up in the fetal position, surrounded by broken glasses and plates. But even then, it still doesn’t manage to steel you for what is one of the most traumatic pieces about domesticity and domestic violence there is.
Tekst / Writing
Written and performed by Aurora Lubos, it’s odd to talk about writing for something that’s more physical theatre and movement than a play. Most of the actual words in the show are that of the diary entries scrawled across a huge round piece of fabric on the floor, and what gets to written in charcoal on the walls at the beginning.
At first, it’s actually a little difficult to grasp what’s going on for a while. Lubos’ abstract physical outbursts alongside some oddly humdrum activities, such as hanging wet clothes on a line, don’t give too many clues as to what Akty is about (especially if you can’t quite read Polish too well, like me).
But as soon as you get it, some of the more unusual happenings of earlier fall into place, and the more you understand what Lubos is getting across and depicting, the more unprecedentedly harrowing it is. You wish you had stayed in that state of ignorant confusion that you were in at the start, rather than be aware of the real horrors that follow.
Akty, translating as “Acts”, is a piece about the “performances” of a domestic wife in rural Poland. The prescribed routines, the fake smiles, and airs and graces, are the little “shows” we’re treated to. But, in each proceeding “performance” Lubos’ character catastrophically implodes while trying to keep up the pretence of dutiful spouse and mother.
Not only are some scenes quietly horrific, such as Lobos switching between screaming and singing along to music, Akty also brilliantly and far too effectively plays on the idea of the audience as a voyeur.
It’s not so much that you’re sat there willfully watching this woman fall to pieces, but you soon become complicit in allowing it to happen.
Well, this is because you’re sat there drinking your vodka (yes, actual vodka) or eating your meringue while the degradation of Lubos continues. You actually play along with being the “good guests”, partaking of Lubos’ strained hospitality whilst offering no help or relief from her domestic nightmare. As an audience member, all you do is observe. It’s a horrible position that racks you with extreme guilt.
It doesn’t just finish with the end of the play, either. Akty is so powerful and so sordidly damaging that it stays with you as you walk back out the door past broken plates and glasses.
Some people left in literal tears. I myself sat for the next half hour, barely touching the beer I bought, and nearly broke down myself.
Very few pieces of theatre of damaged me like this. And Akty has probably damaged me to most.
Reżyseria / Direction
What makes Akty so bruising a piece of theatre isn’t just the themes alone, but how they’re presented. Lubos’ physical theatre is what augments the pain, the loathing, and the sheer devastation of it all.
There are so many wonderful abstract touches. One, in particular, was that of routine. It’s not just the repeated actions and pathways were awkward and unnerving. It’s that, as Akty goes on, Lubos gets through less and less of the length of them, breaking down at earlier and earlier points.
One possible criticism is the use of some uncomfortably long segments. But, this is certainly deliberate and really adds to Akty’s intensity. You’re made to suffer a little, even if it’s only a slither of what Lubos’ character is going through.
Combine all of this brilliant pacing and direction together and it’s like watching a car crash. You get pulled in by Lubos’ method to the point it’s impossible to tear yourself away from gawping at the increasingly shocking wreckage. Even if you want to close your eyes or avert your gaze, you find yourself too hooked by the sheer shock, stuck spellbound by the carnage.
Producja / Production
One of the most striking elements of this production is the decision to do everything in a clean white space. There are no black studio curtains here. No “surprising” set design or clever lighting. Just the room as is, lit oppressively white against the equally as oppressive white walls of the space.
This gives Akty a feeling of reality that delivers its sucker-punch blow. It’s not just some arty abstract show, but something clean, clinical, and real.
On top of that sense of reality, Lubos’ sound and video work add disquieting terror. Upsetting video plays with deafening distorted sound to increase that unease.
Lubos does the same with music, too. “Stars” by Polish accordion ensemble, Motion Trio, is edited and treated with maddening panache and volume that drops you right into the centre of the cataclysm atmosphere.
Wysęp / Performance
Lubos’ performance is so visceral, so broken, and so human that it really brings the entire piece to an utterly eviscerating conclusion. Her physicality trembles with trauma from start to finish, switching between uncontrollably screeching and gurning with forced delight and merriment, gliding through every emotion in between those two points.
But, it’s the finale where Lubos performance crescendos to breaking point, shattering you along with it.
She dances, unwilling sexily, getting wound up in the massive worded fabric that lay on the floor throughout. There are bursts of physical movement that clearly depict domestic and sexual violence that then slowly dissolve back into the slow, forced seduction. It’s simply just too much to bear witness to.
It’s at this point you feel like you wish you hadn’t taken that wow at the beginning to not leave the performance.
It’s at this pinnacle that you want to sprint out of the space and never look back.
It’s at this moment that you want to believe that this terror is just imagined. But you know that it’s not. You know that this is the actual lives of real women.
Ostatni Słowa / Final Words
Akty leaves you shook and scarred. It is theatre at its most forceful and destructive.
For more information about “Festiwal Restroperspektywy” and “Teatr Chorea”, please visit http://chorea.com.pl/