Pieces of a Woman

Text by Kata Wéber
TR Warszawa, Poland, co-presented by Battersea Arts Centre and The Adam Mickiewicz Institute
Battersea Arts Centre

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TR Warszawa's Pieces of a Woman Credit: Natalia Kabanow
TR Warszawa's Pieces of a Woman Credit: Natalia Kabanow
TR Warszawa's Pieces of a Woman Credit: Natalia Kabanow
TR Warszawa's Pieces of a Woman Credit: Natalia Kabanow
TR Warszawa's Pieces of a Woman Credit: Natalia Kabanow

Pieces of a Woman was, apparently, a big hit on Netflix. TR Warszawa now brings its original theatre production to the UK in a no-interval, two-and-a-quarter-hour-long film and stage hybrid. In Polish with English surtitles.

The first act is a film projected onto flats at the front of the stage, and it would be nigh impossible to do live on stage: the grim reality of childbirth. Realistic, and perhaps, disturbing for those who have not experienced it yet. Close-ups and clever filming of pregnant Maja, the ne’er-do-good Lars and an inexperienced midwife makes for a tense and volatile situation.

Stagehands dismantle the film set and turn it into a stage set, a room in an open-plan flat where the family gathers six months later. The consequences of that first act impact on the second, but not immediately. It takes a while to unravel, and there are plenty of the usual well-meaning clichés about getting over death, but it is sincere.

Family tensions, sibling grievances, jealousies, a widowed mother who likes ‘home staging’ and is hiding her dementia, a lawyer family member she has called to the family dinner for reasons that take a while to uncover, but all with good intentions. And stuffed animals and potted plants, but has she put the oven on for the duck?

Two sisters, and their partners, spar, reflect on their youth, but don't see eye to eye. The childbirth sister, Maja, seems to have a breakdown, strips to take a shower—the flat is seen in cross-section: bathroom, dining room and kitchen.

Set in present-day Warsaw, the dialogue is edgy, familial: secrets are kept and then slowly revealed—as in many families. Death is a trauma, but also a trigger for recrimination.

Families think they know their relatives, but only up to a point. We’ve all been there. Many TV soaps rely on this lack of understanding, or misreading of the situation.

Maja, married to junkie Lars, doesn't want to talk about her problems, so the others assume her grief is weighing her down. She’s tougher than she looks. Her mother is prepared to spend all her savings to help her, but it turns out she has thrown them away on a drunken, vomiting Lars.

He is Norwegian, and some verbal comedy is made of his imperfect Polish. More comedy comes when Maja talks to her childhood ‘Muppet’ wash cloth, still kept by her mother. That’s what many mothers do when their children leave home… they hang on to their childhood mementoes. And there’s a ribbon dance the sisters used to do at school in the nineties that breaks the tension.

To say more would spoil the twists and turns. All I can say is the acting and pacing is natural, the smell of cooking seems authentic, the vomiting might be too much for some. Casting and characterisation is spot on.

There is no programme or cast list, but the actress playing thirty-year-old Maja is superb. Dobromir Dymecki, Monika Frajczyk, Magdalena Kuta, Sebastian Pawlak, Justyna Wasilewska, Julia Wyszyńska and Agnieszka Żulewska, all are excellent.

Asher Goldschmidt’s cinematic score signposting significant moments and Kornél Mundruczó’s direction honour Kata Wéber’s naturalistic text, which was translated from its original Hungarian to Polish by Jolanta Jarmołowicz. I wish we had more of these international collaborations, so kudos to Battersea Arts Theatre for accommodating TR Warszawa, Poland.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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