The Kontakt theatre festival is regarded as one of the most prestigious theatre festivals in Poland. It was predated by a local theatre festival in Torun (the North Polish Theatres Festival) from 1959 to 1989. In 1990 Krystyna Meissner organised an international dimension with four productions of Jonas Vaitkus by the Vilnius Drama Theatre, and in the following year she developed Kontakt as an international festival to bring together “the East and the West”. Since then, it has successfully showcased many of the leading theatre productions from Western and Eastern Europe. Such luminary directors as Arpad Shilling, Peter Brook, Peter Stein, Thomas Ostermeier, Frank Castorf, Eimuntas Nekrosius, Oskaras Korsunovas, Rimas Tuminas, Alvis Hermanis, Luk Perceval, Sasha Waltz, and Christoph Marthaler have all staged their work in the Torun festival. More diverse works have come from Madagascar, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Vietnam, South Korea, China, and Australian aborigines. Recalling its original purpose, this year’s festival was again titled “From East to West”. A theatre journal in Polish launched during the festival highlighted the work of the festival over almost thirty years.
As I was visiting the festival for three days, I was able to see only five of the thirteen productions. Of these the most outstanding and for me the most enjoyable was a Russian performance of Ostrovsky’s play Without a Dowry, directed by Dmitry Krymov. Unlike most of the productions in the festival that were performed in one of the two stages of the Wilam Horzyca Theatre, Without a Dowry was presented in the newly opened Concert Hall (CKK Jordanki) designed by Fernando Menis, which looks somewhat like a Daniel Libeskind structure because of its oddly carved-out holes in the sides of the building. It has an enormous stage and the performance lined one side with a coat rack that kept (deliberately) collapsing. The performance, which lasted almost three hours, used a cinematic backdrop that the characters sometimes sat and faced as if watching their own lives played out in a cheap Russian cinema. The characters appeared on the screen in the distance, gradually approached and then entered at the back of the stage and into the onstage action of the drama (or retreated by the same route). For much of the play, the movie screen depicted a seafront, in which the characters made their appearance and a ship emerged on the horizon, gradually becoming larger as it delivered the protagonist, Paratov, to disrupt Larisa’s wedding. But this view was occasionally interrupted by the irrelevant transmission of a Russian-Netherlands football match on the screen, which the characters also observed. Maria Smolnikova, as Larisa, the bride-to-be, displayed extraordinary versatility, both in terms of her emotional range and in her performative skills, and she was ably matched by Georgy Tokaev as her lover Paratov, who disrupts her marriage to her awkward fiancé, Karandyshev (Maksim Maminov). In a very funny scene, Paratov tries to meet with Larisa, but is continually prevented by Larisa’s mother played by a man in drag (Sergey Melkonyan), who physically tackles him, and repeatedly drags him to the floor. The end of the play was both shocking and predictable in its execution. Both Krymov and Smolnikova were deservedly awarded prizes for best director and best female actor.
11.06.2018 European Stages Steve Wilmer