In 2011, Grusomhetens Teater (Theatre of Cruelty), did a performance inspired by Michal Walczaks Amazonas which premiered during Eurodramafest at Teatr Bagatela in Krakow. This year, they’ve decided to perform it all over again, with performances both in Oslo and Bristol. I didn’t get the to see the performance when it was first staged, but the nice thing about theatre is that it doesn’t matter – it’ll be your first time anyway, and none of the performances is similar to one another.
Amazonas opens with an supposedly old woman walking in, sits down on a black chair and starts to unwrap some kind of plastic enclosure. It turns out to be a plastic bag with a picture of a big hamburger. When its finally opened, she starts to fold it carefully, with very precise movements. While doing so, a couple of other actors enters the stage. They’re not saying a word, they make a lot of different noises, which sounds almost junglelike. Well, at least my illusion of what junglelike rainforest noises sound like. The sounds are accompanied by gestic movements, each actor follows his/hers individual pattern.
The following scene is also in a way wordless. Two of the female performers, dressed in coats, pantyhoses and high heels, is running maniacal around the stage. They scream at each other, and shouting out names of invisible people in the audience. In fact, the whole performance is kind of wordless, except of a scene where one of the female actors plays a woman on audition for Nationaltheatret (the Norwegian National Theatre). The woman acts a part from a play and sings two songs from the musicals Chicago and “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music in a psychological realistic manner. The scene is interrupted by one of the male performers suddenly rising up from the audience, and approaches the woman by telling her what a great performance it was. The adjectives he bombards her with (perfect, lovely, genious, fantastic, outstanding etc,) is being said in a rather unusual way, with a intonation beyond the normal use of the words.
By wordless I mean that there’s not necessarily words with any actual meaning to it. It’s not the meaning of the word that’s important, it’s in what way they are pronounced and the language of the body that matters. It is words beyond meaning.
During the performance, there is one sentence that has an actual meaning in the true sense of the words: The male actor ends the audition scene by grabbing the womans breast with the words: “Du kommer ingen vei om du ikke viser puppene” (you’re not going anywhere unless you show your boobs). The other actors gather around the woman and they all start chanting the words again and again, in many different ways, like a ritual to invoke the ugly truth that the auditioning woman has been experiencing. This sentence is the one that sums up the idea of the whole performance: It’s not enough to be idealistic in what you’re doing, and it’s not interesting what you’re saying, only what you’re showing. The audition scene can be seen as an allegory to the rainforest and mankinds exploitation of it.
Grusomhetens Teater is maybe the closest you get to Antonin Artaud’s and Jerzy Grotowski’s theories in practise. Neither Artaud and Grotowski fulfilled their vision of the theatre they wanted – the theatre would never be as ritualistic and transcendent as they wanted it to be. Grotowskis solution was to form a paratheatre, where the spectators and actors all participated on the same level, not separated by the fourth wall.
Lars Øyno, the founder of Grusomhetens Teater, states in the programme that “Katastrofen inntrer idet mennesket hever seg opp over det organiske, setter tilside livet og river i stykker de mest følsomme sanse- og pusteorganer” (The catastrophy occurs when man sets himself over the organic, sets life aside and tearing apart the most sensitive senses and breathing organ). This is true to the commercial theatre as well as to mankinds relentless destruction to nature itself. In Amazonas, the solution is chaos and darkness, the abandoning of the words in favour of the physical language with its repetition and seemingly noisy expression.
The words of Grotowski ends the performance: “You’re someone’s son.” Metaphorically, we’re all someone’s son/daughter, we’re the children of Mother Nature. If the world stops breathing, it will be the end of mankind. And for theatre as well.
Photo by: Grusomhetens Teater