REVIEWS


THE CARD INDEX 2001

TIME OUT review of THE CARD INDEX:

Entering the politically and dramatically seismic world of poet, playwright and Polish resistance fighter Tadeusz Rozewicz is an experience that everyone should undergo at least once. And Brit-Pol Theatre's loving production of his best known play is as powerful an example of his dangerous, deliriously absurd work as you are likely to come across for a long while. The Hero of the play lies in bed with a woman, and his job is to be entertaining. But it is a Sunday; he doesn't feel like getting out of bed, and he doesn't feel much like talking either. His memories, however, which span a childhood in 1920s Poland, the Nazi occupation, and the communist regime which followed it, ensure that he will talk, because the past will not be silent. At the insistence of three insanely ghoulish Elders who emerge from the wardrobe and wheeze, whistle and vomit their way through their lines like a broken set of bag-pipes, the hero sorts through his life, aided by the appearance of various friends and officials, alive and long-dead.

There is nothing redemptive about Rozewicz's play. Time and the unity of character that reminiscence usually brings are smashed beyond all recognition in this ferocious, surreal joyride through history, culpability and memory. By the end, we are not even sure of our Hero's name, let alone his nationality. The cast are superb and are directed with tangible passion by Peter Czajkowski. The Card Index was written in 1960, but the play on show is so startlingly modern, so challenging and so relentlessly hilarious it makes you wonder what writers - and audiences, of course - have been doing in the theatre for the last 40 years.

(Lucy Powell - TIME OUT.)


THE LONDON EVENING STANDARD REVIEW OF THE CARD INDEX:

'BEDROOM FARCE WITH A NIGHTMARE FEEL' (Very Good**)

'The Eastern Europeans are maestros of miserabilism. They can turn common or garden gloom into epic comedies of self-absorption. Or, in the case of Polish writer Tadeusz Rozewicz's 1960 absurdist drama, a hectic bedroom farce of self absorption.
Rozewicz's delirious play is about a man who cannot get out of bed. He is an Everyman aged between nought and 40. The traffic of people through his grotty boudoir turns it into a busy cattle market. Amidst the hubbub, he claims to be "having difficulty turning into a human being" and is in the grip of extreme psychological alienation. He looks at his hand as if it were someone else's and, amazed at his ability to control it, plunges it under the sheets to massage his flagging libido.
A product of the post-war period, following Nazi occupation and Stalinist rule, Rozewicz's riotously iconoclastic play has no truck with classical convention. Although he employs a self-righteous chorus who emerge from the hero's closet, Rozewicz soon has his hero kill them off - having first failed to kill himself. At a personal level - with his bickering with parents and dismissing lovers - the play is the fantastical daydream of a shambolic idler. At a political level - where he is harassed by meddling bureaucrats and wounded partisans - it is a sinister nightmare reflecting Polish history. Nor is Rozewicz above ridiculing Germans on the way - particularly as his brother was murdered by the Gestapo in 1944.

Peter Czajkowski's direction and Adam Czerniawski's translation not only recapture the original spirit of the Theatre of the Absurd, they also re-cast Rozewicz's play in a contemporary British idiom. Steve Wilson's dingy design is off-set by Mark Doubleday's urine-coloured lighting. An ensemble of 10 creates a chaotic procession of characters who would be tiresomely capricious, but for the innate comedy of the situation and the variety of the acting. Paul Mooney's hero is a steady dramatic locus as an exhausted, indolent, anxious, guilty spectator on his own life. He is inclined to agree with the character who says "people are a herd of animals slithering on shit".

The brilliance of Czajkowski's production is that it milks the pathos and comedy of this farmyard formulation for a post-BSE generation.'

(Patrick Marmion, EVENING STANDARD)


THE THEATRE RECORD review reads:

'Earlier this year I saw a sampler of the great man's work, performed in Polish, but it didn't prepare me for the wild humour, his devastating observation of the daftness of artistic life under an oppressive regime.
Peter Czajkowski got a splendidly collectible clutch of performances from his large cast in a play which, whatever it meant (and don't ask me) never had a dull moment. Another feather in the White Bear's well upholstered cap, this is just one of a whole series of exciting shows promised in Kennington this year, A few grand would help Michael Kingsbury to achieve even higher standards in a venue which already achieves miracles on a shoestring. Maybe the RSC could sub him.'

(Ian Herbert THEATRE RECORD)

REVIEWS FROM THE STAGE AND WANDSWORTH BOROUGH NEWS WILL APPEAR SHORTLY.


THE CARD INDEX 2002 REVIEWS

Brit-Pol Theatre present The Card Index by Tadeusz Rozewicz
Clare Peel for THEATRE WORLD

'The Card Index' and its Polish author Tadeusz Rozewicz (b.1921) are little known in Britain - in fact the first staging of this play in this country was in June 2001, when it was shown at Kennington's White Bear Theatre Club as part of the Polish Cultural Institute's Rozewicz Festival. Thankfully, Time Out picked up on the production, and it is now being re-staged at BAC as the last show in the centre's Time Out Critics' Choice season.

The play, which is directed by Brit-Pol Theatre¹s artistic chief Peter Czajkowski, is quirky and shot through with an addictive sense of mischief, so I thought the following description might be appropriate. First, take a mix of the best of Beckett or Ionesco and t he cleverest of Brecht. Add an Eddie Izzard-style protagonist in pyjamas and on Prozac, and an all-singing, all-dancing, barber-shop back-up trio of (for example) Tom Waits, Beelzebub and the lead singer from Shawoddywoddy (wrong spelling, I'm sure), and you'll be on the right track as to what this fabulous production is like.

Intrigued? I hope so.

This wonderful play centres around a man who never leaves his bedroom. The 'card index' of the title could equally be translated as 'personal file', and what we see is a series of snapshots of episodes past, present and the two interwoven, as our hero attempts to make sense of and give order to his life. Random characters from his experiences and memories process through the sacred chamber of his bedroom, as if he is conjuring them up in his dreams - it's almost as if our protagonist has entered his experiences, thoughts, concerns and acquaintances into a giant slot machine, shut his eyes and then pressed 'play'.

True to the tone of much continental European drama written in the years following World War II, there is a lot of dark introspection and angst to this piece. More often than not, the dreamlike mishmash of events has a nightmarish feel, but don¹t let this deter you, as the humour, bright character acting and sharp script provide the perfect foil. Various dark autobiographical elements are sown into the play, as our hero remembers experiences that clearly take their cue from Rozewicz's boyhood of the 1920s, his time as a resistance fighter during World War II, the guilt of the post-war years and the heavy oppression of Stalin's communist rule.

The cast, some members of which played at The White Bear, all give tremendous performances. Peter Pacey's engaging hero/anti-hero (who is known by different names and as different ages to his various visitors, thus fudging his character and making him an 'any man') is commanding and masculine yet vulnerable. Ria Knowles' secretary is foxy yet no-nonsense, and Susanna Page does some hilarious female studies (great journalist take-off). Fiona Carew and Lawrence McGrandles Jnr also put in entertaining turns.

Special mention, however, should be made of the three, smart-suited, ghoulish 'Elders', who are frequently hilarious and always captivating. This seemingly deceased, barber-shop trio emerge from our hero's closet and provide witty accompaniments, both sung and unsung, to the action. Crazy wordplay, frantic wailing and some lovely close harmonies (listen out for Kenny¹s incredible, piercing falsetto voice) provide something for everyone.

I can't recommend this play highly enough. It's obvious why it's been chosen to feature in this special season of acclaimed fringe productions at BAC and it thoroughly deserves its place at the climax to the season. The writing is really clever and often very sharply self-consciously aware. Rozewicz makes good use of Brecht's so-called 'alienation' technique, in which members of the audience are constantly reminded that they are viewing a staged production and are not absorbed in real-life events. The play looks thoroughly modern, despite having been written in the 1960s. (The only thing that feels dated, in fact - and this is intentional - is Steve Wilson's rather shabby, weakly lit, beige-sodden boudoir of a set.)
Brit-Pol aim to create exciting, modern interpretations of Polish works, and they've done a grand job with this piece. 'The Card Index' went down an absolute treat with the audience on the night I attended and I'm sure that wasn't a one-off. Go and see it while you can. Fantastic viewing.

Review by Clare Peel for Theatreworld Internet Magazine



DREAMING THE NIGHT AWAY BECOMES A LIFELONG NIGHTMARE IN ROZEWICZ'S FANTASY BIOGRAPHY OF A FACELESS BUREAUCRAT.
By Timothy Ramsden for Reviews Gate www.reviewsgate.com

In Polish, the title also means 'Personal File' and in the computer age (the play dates from 1960) it would be one that's been a serial victim of hacking. Central to Steve Wilson's aptly cosy, shabby set is a big bed. But our ironically named Hero has no privacy. A cupboard door slides open to let in the dead, while the door seems open to all.

Choice is denied this Hero; the play harks back to the Absurd and before that Expressionism in its flow of characters, real or fantasy, from the past who occur, and sometimes recur, making the Hero justify himself. Even the most innocent, a young German woman who takes the bedroom for a café and requires a cream bun, leads back to the grim days of Nazi occupation.

Peter Pacey's Hero becomes the all-purpose bureaucrat with a past he doesn't care to remember. Pacey's features take on a naivety that's perfect for the character. And Ria Knowles' severely-bespectacled secretary, waking up beside him in bed, has a matter-of-factness that balances the ever-changing events with an inscrutable normality.

Weirdest of all is a trio of ghostly, dust-clad Elders who enter to a discordant tritonal chant, followed at intervals by wild alliterative nonsense riffs. One of these emerges as the partisan our Hero shot, possibly by accident. No wonder looking back's not in favour: 'I've no time for memories. Come back on Wednesday,' he tells one visitor.

But memories have time for him and Peter Czajkowski's production catches the routine of dream imagery, the normality of nightmare. Only, this nightmare is the life our Hero has made himself, leading to eventual minor-key resolution as he kneels, surrounded by the memory cast, all composed on the great bed of his life.

Out of its period and political context the play doesn't have the instant force of a classic. But it naggingly provokes a sense of how night and dreams open unwelcome doors and create their own, unavoidable theatre, one where – as the Hero keeps complaining – you have to go on talking because this is the theatre.

CAST:
The Hero: Peter Pacey
Mother/Olga/Fat Woman/Journalist: Susanna Page
Father/Fat Man/Miner: Martin Bendel
Elder/Peasant: Peter Luke Kenny
Elder/Man with Hat: Julius Barnett
Elder/Man with Cap: Richard Sandells:
Secretary/Voice in Bed: Ria Knowles
Bobby/Waiter/Youth/Reporter: Lawrence McGrandles Jnr.
Waitress/Lively Lady/German Girl: Fiona Carew
Uncle/Teacher: Eugene Williams

Director: Peter Czajkowski
Associate Director: Tina Jones
Designer: Steve Wilson
Lighting: Mark Doubleday
Music: Warren Wills