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Arts Festival Review: T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T.

It Was 40 Years Ago Today

Review by Richard Thomson

T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T.
A TR Warszawa Production
13, 14, 16-19 March, 8pm
TSB Bank Arena


The 1960s were a highwater mark for the kind of glacially-paced and existentially introspective cinema that hardly anyone makes – or watches – any more, and no one made those movies quite like the Italians: think of directors such as Visconti, Antonioni, Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Polish theatre director Grzegorz Jarzyna has adapted Pasolini's 1968 film Theorem as T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T., which makes an odd sort of counterpoint to the earlier festival show Sound of Silence. The two Eastern European theatre companies present very different takes on sex and the social changes of the 1960s.

In both productions, sex is a subversive act, but in Silence it was the dourly authoritarian surveillance state machinery of the USSR that was subverted. T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. makes almost the reverse case, documenting the disintegration of the members of a wealthy Italian family after a visitor comes to stay and seduces each of them in turn, exposing them to the possibility of personal self-fulfilment and a life outside the conventions and compulsions of the family, the law and the capitalist economy.

If anything locates the production most specifically in the 1960s, other than the immaculately modernist set design and costumes, it's the idea that sex could pose a threat to the consumer society and advanced capitalism. You only have to look to Italy in 2010, where president Silvio Berlusconi's party is accused of

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Further irony can be found in Pasolini's own death – murdered in 1975, ostensibly at the hands of a young man he picked up for sex but long suspected to have been politically motivated. (Pasolini had called for the leaders of Italy's ruling right-wing party to be put on trial, something that Berlusconi is still, 40 years later, trying to avoid.)

So for all that T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. may be something of a period piece, it's a reminder that even the discredited ideas of history (Pasolini was both a Catholic and a marxist) can have new things to show us.

One thing I appreciated about T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. was its relentless thoroughness in documenting the characters' decline. The visitor leaves about half way through, and during the second half (though there is no interval) whenever you think things can't get any worse for the ones left behind – they do.

The play is mostly wordless, but towards the end words come thick and fast. Too quickly for me to really take in the subtitled text, enjoy those glorious consonant-rich Polish voices and absorb the sparse yet complex staging. Perhaps it didn't matter too much: the verbal imagery mirrored the aircraft take-off electronic sheen of the score, eventually sweeping away the debris of repression and existential crisis to leave us on a surprisingly optimistic note, with birds singing on the telephone wires and a plea – is this the real legacy of the 1960s? – to "Love, Love".

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Press release: Powerhouse Play from Theatre Company TR Warszawa
Arts Festival website: T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T.
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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