Kurwa. Kraków. Dzień Dobry. The most common words one can hear when they mention their Polish nationality. With Poland being one of the biggest minorities in the UK, it is no surprise that Gusła which is performed entirely in Polish, was invited to, and found an audience, at this year’s Fringe. You may not understand a single word spoken on stage. But then again, you may not need to.
Based on Dziady (Forefather’s Eve), written by Adam Mickiewicz in the 19th century, an acclaimed and celebrated work by one of Poland’s most famous dramatists at a time when Poland didn’t exist on the maps of Europe, Gusła focuses on second and fourth parts of the poetic drama. Here, we are invited to witness Dziady: a pre-Christian ritual where the dead are summoned from Purgatory with the goal of helping them with their suffering so they can go on in peace.
Even though a true depiction of Mickiewicz’s work, Grzegorz Bral takes a new approach in Gusła, creating a haunting atmosphere from the very moment we enter the room. The traditional ritual intertwined with paganism, every aspect of the performance perfectly blending into the darkness of the story as well as the stage. The costumes and set by Adam Łucki are so realistic, one could be forgiven for forgetting we’re sitting in 21st century Edinburgh. Accompanied by haunting live music throughout the whole hour, it’s hard not to feel goosebumps at the sight of tormented wraiths so well performed by the cast. With each performer completely letting go of the mundane world and instead letting in the possessive emotions of their characters. The audience is included in this ritual whether they like it or not as actors focus their gaze on a chosen person challenging them to feel a part of it. And with brilliant use of physical theatre, it is hard not to start dancing with them as I momentarily feel as if attending a Beltane festival.
Gusła is a great chance to see Polish theatre away from home, the home that was taken away from the Poles for over a hundred years. The thirst for the sound of old, poetic Polish language is so clear, respect for their culture brimming from the audience, a melancholic Dzień Dobry heard here and there as we walk in the room making it feel almost like a gathering of sorts.
While Gusła can certainly be described as experimental theatre, it’s still completely different to shows we tend to see on Fringe, the care and loyalty for this old work is reflected in every moment of the performance. Lubuski Teatr has done a great job in inviting curiosity for Polish history and culture, one that doesn’t necessarily require the knowledge of the language to dive straight in.
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