Dramaturgic cooperation, curator: Marta Keil
Dramaturgic cooperation: Piotr Grzymisławski, Jan Sobolewski
Text: Marta Keil, Piotr Grzymisławski and Rabih Mroué
Scenographic cooperation: Marta Kuliga
Music: Łukasz Maciej Szymborski, Piotr Wawer Jr
Lights: Robert Łosicki
Stage manager: Hanna Gruszczyńska
Producer: Magda Igielska
With: Jan Sobolewski, Małgorzata Trofimiuk, Piotr Wawer Jr, Łukasz Maciej Szymborski
In the Teatr Polski in Bydgoszcz, Rabih Mroué prepared a play about Andrzej Lepper – one of the most controversial figures on the Polish political scene over the last twenty years. The leader of the „Samoobrona” (Self-defence) party was frequently featured in the media and sparked controversy but at the same time he was persistently subjected to snap and often stereotypical judgements. It seemed as if various social groups were projecting their fears, needs and obsessions onto Lepper. The brilliant Lebanese artist, together with actors from the Bydgoszcz theater, takes a closer look at the figure of Lepper and at the same time unveils some surprising aspects of the Polish transformation. Marta Keil, who is also the curator of the project, and Piotr Grzymislawski collaborated with Mroué on his first Polish theater production.
„No Versailles over here!” is a performance that doesn’t try to expose the truth or lack thereof; it doesn’t investigate who’s guilty and who’s not. It doesn’t try to get on the right side of anybody and it doesn’t try to offend anyone. We can watch how the facts, data, evidence and testimonies are intertwined with scandals, accusations, rumors and fantasies, and how all of that becomes “public opinion”. The material we work on is entirely made up of newspaper articles – we investigate the story of Andrzej Lepper’s death based on them. We ask questions about what stands behind every new published text to understand how the media function. It’s kind of like a surrealist story based on a true story, made composed of indissoluble ties between truths and lies; the ties that once cut, become deadly.
The basic point of reference in working on “No Versailles over here!” was not so much Andrzej Lepper’s biography as the reactions that have existed for over twenty years to him appearing on the political scene. Going through them not only allows us to take a closer look at the history of the Polish transformation from a pretty surprising perspective, but also to see the social, economic and political phenomena that are part of the current situation in Poland. The publicists‘ comments, the language of press reports, the way of conducting interviews, the methods of constructing both analytical texts and short press releases show the process of accumulating class prejudices, they uncover the dividing lines being drawn, they reveal social fears, obsessions and denials. In a way, they portray the creation of class divisions in the Polish society after 1989.
In 2003, Piotr Najsztub asked Lepper in „Przekrój“ if he could be tamed:
“Piotr Najsztub: Did you grow up?
Andrzej Lepper: Of course. I’m always growing up.
Piotr Najsztub: So Lepper is a little more tamed now?
Andrzej Lepper: I was never a wild man. I had to do some things because in what other way would anybody get through your media?! If they were to use conventional methods…
Piotr Najsztub: Are you learning English?“
(Napalony na władzę Mulat [A Mulatto hungry for power], Piotr Najsztub’s conversation with Andrzej Lepper, „Przekrój” 2003, #30, pages 26-30)
Lepper agreed to be tamed, he became “civilized”. He changed his haircut, put on a white-and-red tie, and changed his shoes, gestures, his way of expression. He was learning English. But, more importantly, he changed his political views; Balcerowicz didn’t “have to quit” anymore, the struggle for the rights of the excluded gave way to a certain respect for the so-called requirements of the modern market economy and big capital and his attachment to the cause of farmers and workers was replaced with an admiration for Jan Kulczyk. From a tribune of the people, he became part of the then-political establishment, thus losing credibility in the eyes of his voters. He did not speak their language anymore. He was part of the world that despised him; they hated him – and they had every right to do so. At the same time, however, Lepper was never accepted into the establishment, which rejected him as a nouveau riche. As a result of that, the Leader of Samoobrona found himself in a place that didn’t give him any chance for continuing his career and yet it made him unable to go back.
Of course, it is very tempting to say Lepper was a hero, to glamourize him as the somewhat failed modern Jakub Szela, Robin Hood or Janosik. I feel like this is very misleading. Andrzej Lepper was not a hero, but to some extent he was a victim of the way in which the Polish transformation was carried out. He represented a social group that did not fit into the new reality: it couldn’t or didn’t want to find its place in it, it broke the rules, it embarrassed itself with its clumsiness, it surprised everyone with its unfamiliarity with the rules. We were ashamed of it. Lepper embodied everything that was embarrassing, unwanted, denied and excluded from an established vision of “new” Polish society. That’s why he compelled disgust, outrage, sometimes fear and – most often – mockery and contempt in other people. He judged us harshly.
An excerpt from „Pogarda. Oswojenie Leppera [Contempt. The taming of Lepper]” by Marta Keil, published in the brochure for „No Versailles over here!”
Rabih Mroué lives and works in Beirut and Berlin. Fascinated with how reality and fiction intermingle, he freely draws on different disciplines in his artistic work which – although rooted in teater – contains elements of stage plays, performances and visual arts. He is co-founder and member of the executive board of the Beirut Art Center, co-publisher of TDR: The Drama Review (New York) and regularly directs for the Munich Kammerspiele. His latest stage works include Ode to Joy (2015), Riding on a cloud (2013) and 33 RPM and a Few Seconds (2012) with Lina Majdalanie. His most recent exhibitions took place in MoMA (2015), Mesnta Gallerija (Ljubljana, 2014), SALT (Istanbul, 2014), CA2M (Madrid, 2013) and DOCUMENTA 13 (Kassel, 2012). In March 2016 Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin organized a festival dedicated to his works created with Lina Majdalanie. During the Festival of New Dramaturgies in 2015 the audience in Bydgoszcz saw Riding on a Cloud – one of his highly acclaimed performances.
And yet it worked out. The spectacle delighted me and Lepper’s colleagues. Although I’m sure it was for entirely different reasons. Let the words of one of Samoobrona’s activists, who had tears in his eyes, be the punchline: “We lost. We had our five minutes and we threw it all away. The chairman is the only winner in Samoobrona. Not even Kaczyński had a theater play made about him.”
Marcin Kowalski, Gazeta Wyborcza
The Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué’s theatrical method and his distance towards the issues raised give this scenic event conceived in Bydgoszcz a chance to become interesting for everybody, although probably for different reasons.
Anita Nowak, Teatr dla Was
What strikes the most about this performance is the subversive concept of thinking about Poland through the lens of a marginalized individual pushed to the sidelines of the “new” reality. Unwittingly awakening suppressed but still valid fears, it reminds us of arduously overcoming claustrophobia that we are stuck in, both politically and mentally, paralyzed by the galloping capitalism and inferiority complexes about the West. Are we environmentally aware enough, have we rid ourselves of the small-town accents and have the old social divisions disappeared?
Wiktoria Wojtyra, Kultura Liberalna
A lot of representatives of Samoobrona came to the premiere wearing white and red ties – yes, the party survived its founder. After the play, the activists presented one of their striped ties to the Lebanese director. In one of the interviews, Rabih Mroué said that art exists to make the world more complicated for the spectator. “No Versailles over here!” is a good example of that.
Witold Mrozek, Gazeta Wyborcza