Helver's Night 2003
New Polish playwright Ingmar Villqist given his UK premiere
HELVER'S NIGHT by Ingmar Villqist
6th to 25th May 2003.
White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11
Directed by Peter Czajkowski.
Translated by Jacek Laskowski.
Cast: Tina Jones as Carla and Tat Whalley as Helver.
Lighting by Robin Snowdon. Sound by Mark Dlacey. Original Music by Warren Wills.
Design by Alex Stanbury, Derek Cowie and Alistair Plant. Costumes by Rodney Worth.
Stage Management Elizabeth Maddison.
Runs 70 minutes with no interval.
Executive Producer: John Woroniecki.
SPONSORED BY BALTIC RESTAURANT 020 7928 1111.
REVIEWS OF HELVER'S NIGHT
"Ingmar Villqist's play starts with the sounds of jackboots marching, windows being breaking, a mob baying. Although details are left deliberately imprecise, we are clearly deep in the nightmare of the twentieth century. When young Helver bursts in at dinnertime, Carla - the mother who is not a mother - is disturbed to see that he has entered into the hysteria of the streets. He describes with boyish enthusiasm what they did to 'that little shop' and the 'filthy scum' who worked in it. He proudly shows off his banner, his beret and badge. Villqist, one of Poland's leading playwrights, must know that this is familiar territory, and he leads us on an ingenious route through his themes of brutality, intolerance and despair. What starts of general and historical, and diverts into absurdist power games between the elder woman and the young boy, eventually narrows down its focus to give us an individual end to two individual stories.
It is a tight, dark play with no room for wooliness or emotional bulldozing. So I am pleased to say that director Peter Czajkowski does a fine job for Brit-Pol Theatre. Tina Jones and Tat Whalley give powerful and controlled performances as Carla and Helver. Jones, especially, has the sense to know that this is a story to be told simply, not forcefully. The truth is vicious enough."
Jonathan Gibbs (Time Out).
"I thought it particularly poignant, important in its message and beautifully acted by Tina Jones and Tat Whalley.
There are few plays that talk about the subject of euthanasia, never mind about persecution in its most graphic form, as a tool of the emotionally vulnerable and impressionable before they themselves are turned on. Villqist covers so much ground, so economically and dramatically effectively. It should be seen."
(Carole Woddis of The Glasgow Herald)
TIMOTHY RAMSDEN from www.reviewsgate.com writes:
"A searing, harrowing drama with immaculate production and performances."
"Despite the Scandinavian-sounding pseudonym, Villqist is Polish, so a suitable case for production by Brit-Pol Theatre, which presents Polish plays in English. Let's hope they keep coming up with magnificent work like this political, and very human, parable.
Though the play avoids a specific location, central Europe mid-20th century seems the visual language of costumes and set. Yet it's a time of riot and revolt, while life tries to go on. Carla's cutting bread when Helver returns from a political parade.
He seems her son, though from his behaviour and enthusiastic references to Gilbert, who gave him his flag to wave, he'd appear to be younger than Tat Whalley suggests. But their relationship's not so simple and Helver is younger in mind than body. Whalley captures an initial sense of threat, as he makes Carla carry out military manoeuvres. It's soon clear he's merely mimicking his own experiences. Vulnerability seeps out, as does Carla's intense love for the child who's substituted for her own, lost and brain-damaged, daughter.
There's an urgency to Tina Jones' Carla as she, in turn, puts Helver through his paces to get away to safety. For his supposed friend Gilbert is leading a purge on the Helvers of his world. When Plan A miscarries, Jones brings a taut, restrained sorrow to her alternative solution, a tender, harrowing scene that goes beyond the mother's dilemma at the end of Ghosts.
Both performances show utter integrity, Whalley clearly charting our journey to Helver's true simplicity. There can be no harder condemnation of fanatical extremism than the way it has distorted this benevolent, trusting youth to stand uncomprehendingly in a crowd shouting 'Dirty scum' as people unable to protect themselves are hounded and beaten.
In Bulgaria the National Theatre produced Helver's Night. In Britain it's left to Kennington's tiny White Bear to show again how valuable a venue it is. For the quality's sky-high. Jones and Whalley are impeccable, as is Peter Czajkowski's strong direction, with its keen changes of mood and pace ensuring we see these characters as individuals as well as people caught in a political predicament."
(Timothy Ramsden www.reviewsgate.com)
AND THE AUDIENCE REPSONSES:
A SELECTION OF AUDIENCE REACTIONS TO BRIT-POL'S PRODUCTION OF HELVER'S NIGHT'
What a gem of a play - and the Company's commitment to it shines in every perfect detail of the production: The wonderfully simple and atmospheric set, the haunting music, but most of all of course, those two sensational central performances. The emotional honesty of the acting was absolutely thrilling - and transformed the bleak subject matter into something so subtly nuanced and shaded that I left The White Bear both moved and exhilarated. Lucky Vilquist to be making his English theatre debut with such a truthful and uncompromising show of his work.
Hurrah for Peter Czajkowski and Brit Pol! This is a play worth seeing. Great performances, great set, great sound!
I thought Helver's Night was a terribly moving piece of theatre with brave performances from both actors. We need more theatre like this!
Wanted to drop a note to say how much I enjoyed last night' s performance of Helver's Night. Tina Jones and Tat Whalley were magnificent. A good piece that keeps you engaged all the way through, (mind didn't wander once!). The shifts in power between (the characters) Carla and Helver kept surprising you as you watched. I liked the atmospheric lighting, particularly the window and the use of sound and I thought you utilised the space very well.
Really felt in the presence of something so very special last night.
Congratulations on a beautiful production! Moving, frightening, funny and sad.
Basia Bogoczeka and Tony Howard
I thought it particularly poignant, important in its message and beautifully acted by Tina Jones and Tat Whalley. There are few plays that talk about the subject of euthanasia, never mind about persecution in its most graphic form, as a tool of the emotionally vulnerable and impressionable before they themselves are turned on. Villqist covers so much ground, so economically and dramatically effectively. I'll mention it to other people; it should be seen. I hope we see more of Mr Villqist.
Helver's Night is a miniature perfection of theatre. An intimate portrayal of the despair of two people, exiled from a society now bent on their destruction, and painfully exiled from each other by the same dreams and longings, which have thrown them together. On the eve of a political uprising, which recalls the midnight 'round up' of the Jews by the SS, a childless mother, and a motherless child, seek their happiness first in the oppression and then the salvation of each other. The play's surreal and mysterious beginnings are directed and acted with the same sureness of touch and simplicity of means, disturbing and compelling in equal measure, which carry the play to its formidably unequivocal conclusion. The tension and compassion of this chamber drama had me on the edge of my seat from the moment the lights dimmed and the aditorium hushed."
Julia Peck and Stephen Bear
A surprising and intense piece of writing, that manages to be topical in political and personal ways, slamming home its messages by way of a tightly focussed production and two powerhouse performances. Impressive in how its political substance is kept deliberately non-specific and yet is articulated through an unexpected personal relationship and made unbearably poignant and emotional by the collision of two flawed, yet sympathetic characters.
This latest offering from the innnovative and forward looking Brit Pol Theatre Company is arguably their best so far. Housed in a utilitarian set, with sound effect and lighting capturing the claustrophobic and paranoid nature of the relationship and the increasingly threatening surrounding environment. This is tightly focussed and well cast two hander, with two very strong acting performances. The sympathetic direction and honesty of the interpretation produced a gripping and moving one-acter, which deserves a wider audience and a higher profile. Companies and casts as good as this don't come together by accident. Do yourself a favour and catch this before the run ends.
Helver's Night was bold, brave and beautiful.
Despite a background in theatre, I hadn't encountered Ingmar Villqist. It's vital that we see plays from other countries and cultures in general and in particular, "Helver's Night", which deals so expressively with our ongoing problems of identity, worth and power.
I was very impressed by "Helver's Night" produced by The Brit-Pol Theatre. Unknown here author Ingmar Villqist is a very original, modern playwright, creating strong, interesting characters for actors to play. The performance in White Bear Theatre was really very well directed and acted especially by Tina Jones as Carla (not an easy part to play). Helver's Night" is rather "dark" and depressing play, but with some elements of humor. In my opinion, British theatre needs more such an intelligent, well-written and staged plays. Many congratulations to Peter Czajkowski (director), Tina Jones, Tat Whalley and all people (exellent translator Jacek Laskowski) involved in this production.
Stefan Golebiowski "The Polish Daily"
We found Helver's Night extremely moving, a beautifully crafted play: the writing intelligent, original, stark and economical. The performances and direction were beautifully judged. I have never seen acting of this calibre at this theatre before. Painful and exciting. Nothing I can say just now begins to do it justice - it was absolutely terriffic.
Judith Sharp and Roderick Smith
I thought the acting was marvellous and, of course, the directing perfect. There was an economy with no distracting fussiness. It was a great evening.
I thought 'Helver's Night was excellent, beautifully directed and acted. Very impressed. Thank you for some great theatre.
Tina Jones & Tat Whalley in Helvers Night.
ABOUT INGMAR VILLQIST
Ingmar Villqist (the artistic pseudonym of Jaroslaw Swierszcz)
Playwright, art historian, professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, founder of Theatre Kriket in Chorzow, Poland born in 1960 in Chorzow.
Villqist plays are clearly marked by the influence of the psychological, Scandinavian style of writing for theatre.
"Actors must love him because he writes dream-roles, which have many layers, and a past, which returns between the pronouncements. He follows Scandinavian classics in believing that all of the most important events took place before the curtain goes up, and what we are watching is a conclusion of acts committed before."- Roman Pawlowski in the 'Gazeta Wyborcza Daily'.
Villqist toys with various conventions and dramatic forms. Only the experiments with characters placed in different environments have not changed.
Villqist has written several plays, which are often performed in Polish theatres: OSCAR AND RUTH, HELVER'S NIGHT, a cycle of one-act plays THE ANAEROBES.
HELVER'S NIGHT is an expressionist drama about the relationship between Carla, and her charge, the retarded Helver. Helver is fascinated by fascism, not by the ideology, which he is unable to grasp, but by the show-off aspects of the movement. In the end he becomes a victim of this fascination.
In OSCAR AND RUTH we meet two people again, but in a different convention, "a spectacular and funny burlesque", a series of "the more or less 'cool' metamorphosis that a contemporary couple goes through, or plays out in front of each other." (Jacek Sieradzki, "Polityka Weekly").
The cycle of one-act plays THE ANAEROBES is also a variation on the theme of private relationships, including homosexual ones. In THE PIECE OF LARD WITH FRUIT an elderly woman is fighting to dominate a younger one, and THE ANAEROBES makes us observe the disintegration of a relationship between two men, which can not be saved even by their adopted daughter.
Ingmar Villqist is currently the most popular young Polish playwright. He conducts workshops for young playwrights at the Centre of Dramaturgy in Poznan. He is also the playwright in rtesidence at the Polish Theatre in Poznan.
He was included in the most important 'Theatrical Five' for the 21st Century - selected by a critic, Roman Pawlowski, who said: "I am including him because I am convinced about his playwright talent. Villqist, writing about the basic emotions: love, hate and fear of death, may free the Polish dramaturgy from the language of grotesque and absurd, which dominated the theatre of the 20th century and introduce us to another way of thinking about a man."
Villqist himself directed the Polish premieres of THE PIECE OF LARD WITH FRUIT (from the cycle of THE ANAEROBES), OSCAR AND RUTH and HELVER'S NIGHT.