Adapted for the stage by Allen Kuharski (from the translation by Danuta Borchardt of the novel by Witold Gombrowicz)
Teatr Provisorium and Kompania Theatre
You just know that when the publicity notes for a play refer to celebrating the 'nasty inner child', you're in for an evening of fighting, kicking, biting, bawling and belching.
And Teatr Provisorium, which has been touring internationally with Ferdydurke since 2001 (picking up an Edinburgh Fringe first on the way), does not disappoint in this respect.
Adapted from the 1937 novel by Polish writer Gombrowicz, Ferdydurke (or Fiddle-Faddle as it translates into English) is the story of Joey Kowalski (Witold Mazurkiewicz) who is thirty years old in body, but who has the mind of an immature adolescent. In order to deal with this, he is transported back to his old classroom where he meets his teacher (Jacek Brzezinski), and two former classmates (Jaroslaw Tomica and Michal Zgiet).
Gombrowicz's central theme is regret at the loss of childish immaturity and spontaneity which he believed to be the basis of creativity and individualism. Written just prior to the outbreak of World War Two, the novel is highly prescient of events that were to follow in his homeland. His work was a direct challenge to the social homogeneity the Nazis stood for. In the classroom scene, for example, the children are exhorted to love and admire a great poet for no reason other than they are told he is a great poet. The children don't buy it but the teacher merely repeats his mantra and tells them that's the end of the matter. Gombrowicz's point is that iconoclastic children are eventually forced into submission by a society that demands that they conform.
As a theatrical theme, this is laudable. However, though the actors took us through a roller-coaster of energetic and physical performances, the repetitious preoccupation with sex, bodily functions and general grot (such as picking and eating bogeys) quickly became tedious. Never having been a little boy, such preoccupations were alien rather than nostalgic.
The final section of the play, dealing with the upper and lower classes in a country manor, was more interesting, though it was still characterised by manic fighting and shouting. The view that the lower classes somehow enjoyed being bossed around and "smacked in the chops" before being sacked certainly marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one which Gombrowicz went on to oppose (his works were banned in his native country until the 1970s).
Jerzy Rudski's simple set masterfully gave the impression of a 1930s classroom, a train and a farm, all of which symbolised the sense of claustrophobia and staidness experienced by Joey. Yet it still allowed the actors the space to perform.
Overall, despite some interesting themes and performances, the humour washed over me and the eighty minutes of the performance proved a bit too much.
Reviewer: Bronagh Taggart