Ivona, Pincess of Burgundia

Witold Gombrowicz
Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company
The Network Theatre beneath Waterloo Station
(2011)

Ivona publicity image

The Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company, formed in 2007, is a small group of actors who graduated from the Poor School. They take their name from the "Statute for the Punishment of Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars" of 1598, which classified actors alongside prostitutes and criminals.

Their latest production is a tragic farce, written by Poland’s greatest comic writer Witwold Gombowicz, in 1934, but not produced for thirty years. It was first seen in London in 1971 during Peter Daubeny’s World Theatre Season and was staged by The Actors Touring Company in 1988. I saw an excellent production at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake by the Polish director, Tadeusz Bradecki, I am surprised Ivona, Princess of Burgundia has never found its way into either the National or the RSC repertoire.

The heir to the throne, bored with court life, proposes to the ugliest, smelliest, sullenest, most lethargic, most anaemic and lowliest person in the kingdom. The court presumes it is a joke in bad taste, but he goes ahead and marries her.

Ivona's ugliness is a reflection of the court's moral ugliness. Her unsettling, passive, silent presence is a permanent and humiliating reproach, driving them to Shakespearean distraction, madness and murder.

Gombrowicz (1904-1969) would be better served if his play were not acted by an all-male cast and if an actress, rather than a shaven-headed Lindsay Kemp look-alike, played Ivona. The court should be full of real people, beautiful people, not grotesque harridans. The clownish white make-up is a mistake. Kos Mantzakos’s drag production has flair but robs the play of its poignancy and horror and encourages the audience to go on laughing loudly when the farce turns tragic and is no longer funny.

Ivona, Princess of Burgundy is part of Sturdy Beggars’ promising Brain Drain season which will include plays by Stanislav Stratiev and Ferenc Molnar.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch