Barbican Theatre, London EC2
Opened 14 October, 2010
Silence and stillness can have very different effects onstage than onscreen; in a live context they seem more aberrant, even confrontational. Pier Paolo Pasolini cut to a bare minimum the dialogue in his 1968 film Teorema, allowing viewers to make their own interpretations of the strange tale of a mysterious young man who arrives in the family of an Italian industrialist, has affairs with the entire household then departs leaving five radically shaken-up personalities behind him. When Grzegorz Jarzyna takes a similar approach with his stage adaptation for his TR Warszawa company, the co-presence of the silent, often motionless performers renders the situation one less of permission and more of challenge. Which, I suppose, is what the Guest’s sojourn there is about.
This is a different world from that which the film entered. In 1968, Italian society seemed under threat from the revolutionary left, and so mogul Paolo’s gesture of giving his factory to the workers was interrogated in political/ideological terms. In 2010, we take the capitalist approach as axiomatic yet may feel at risk from allegedly implacable other creeds, thus the questioning in Jarzyna’s version is much more explicitly along religious lines: the question is repeatedly asked, “Do you believe in miracles?” Of course, in some ways, the Guest represents the sudden epiphany of the divine, but that is not the only angle from which matters can be seen in the film. It pretty much is here. In the final “transformations” phase of the piece, Jarzyna is unable to stage the miracle performed by the family’s maid on celluloid, so instead he has her talk to the birds, and them talk back. Echoes of Pasolini’s St Francis in a different film, but also of mystical twaddle; the latter tone is distinctly to the fore in turning an originally minor character into a kind of holy fool who here gets to deliver a coda speech that is all sententious pseudo-profundity. There is also a suggestion, not just of a challenge made to each member of the household, but of a judgement passed upon them. As with the stage adaptation of Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly at the Almeida earlier this year, the overall effect is that, paradoxically, the live three-dimensional version of the work seems flatter than the cinematic one.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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