Laughter isn’t what you expect in Sarah Kane’s final play, first performed posthumously in 2000 following this most dynamic of writer’s death the year before. When it arrives a few minutes into Grzegorz Jarzyna’s TR Warszawa production following a self-loathing rant by Magdalena Cielecka’s central cipher of mental and emotional anguish, it’s an ever so slightly silly guffaw from a man who might be her significant other. It’s the sort of laugh which only in full flight of tearing chunks out of each other can use to puncture the moment’s apparent seriousness.
Jarzyna’s approach to a play which on the page reads as an opaque tone poem is at times a literal one, involving a re-ordered text, a love affair with a female doctor and numerous exchanges with figures of seeming authority. Each scene puts Cielecka at its centre, her hair scraped back as she lashes out at anything in her path, mainly herself. Intermittantly, a disembodied voice straight out of Godard’s Alphaville punctuates each snapshot with a sombre countdown to the woman’s slow self-destruction.
What emerges is an increasingly impressionistic set of dramatic markers to a play that helped re-define how mental illness is treated onstage, but which is still hidebound by its own sad mythology. Following her turn in TR Warszawa’s equally intense Dybbuk on the same stage last weekend, Cielecka gives an even more fearless performance in this seven actor version that’s as emotionally wide open as its author. There will come a time in the not too distant future when the legend of Sarah Kane doesn’t have to be recounted with every airing of her work. That time will come soon. But not yet.
The Herald, August 16th 2008