I went to Bratislava and all I got was this lousy potplant. Istropolitana Day 5, 6 & 7

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Someone said to us today, that when we returned to England we brought the weather with us. I think we didn’t just bring it, but we stole it. It was raining heavily last night and this morning in Bratislava, so it was a welcome surprise when we stepped off the plane into the English sun.

I’ve been a bit rubbish at keeping these posts up to date, due to a decided lack of time and sleep. So, this is my penultimate post about the Istropolitana Projekt 2012.

DAY FIVE

The morning after our show there was a short discussion with all the groups who had performed the day before. These were quite enlightening and when the right questions are asked can give a real insight to the performers and their training.

Our discussion went very easily and smoothly. We all assaulted the stage in one giant collective leaving the audience numbers smaller that ours. People were really appreciative of our work and I had fun in the discussion because of this.

After the discussion I went to watch two very shows. These were Super Market and the National Voodoo by Gardzienice and Grey Matter: A Play for Six Brains by the MA Students in Central. I’ll post the reviews I wrote of the shows at the end of this day.

I’m really glad I got to see these shows and meet these people. It was brilliant seeing Gardzienice, because we had studied them last year, and our program head at Rose Bruford used to be a key member of the company. I really loved seeing their work in action and it was great meeting them afterwards. The same is true for the central lot, who are really nice people. We also saw another show by the guys who did The Rich Man and Lazarus, and even though it wasn’t as good as Lazarus they still did the show well. This group became the highlight of the festival for me I think.

Reviews:

So these are my reviews…they’re very subjective. Please do tell me what you think of them, because I’m trying to practice my review writing a bit.

Supermarket and the National Voodoo

Supermarket and the National Voodoo was not exactly what I was expecting to see from the students of The Academy of Theatre Practices (APT) in Gardzienice. The show was a montage of extracts from the text Diary Kept Afterwards by Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk, brought to life by the performers with a mix of text (spoken, sung and rapped), hip-hop beats and Oberek (a national dance). At the beginning, the co-ordinator of the Gardzienice centre Mariusz Gołaj introduces the piece stating that it is “not very theatrical” – Well, actually it is very theatrical – but, if it is not really a play, then the only thing I could describe it as, is a song. The rhythm of the piece is constantly fluid and the incredible sense of musicality that I would have expected from the APT students carries the audience through the piece. All text adds to the sense of this song in the way it flows, and through the intonation of the voice.

The sense of ensemble in the group is incredibly strong, and the performers are meticulous in their technical performance. The chorus of performers is always moving together as a single organism, yet one can notice every single performer and can focus on specific fragments of action in the whole.

Not speaking Polish I was unable to understand the specific context of the piece but was easily able to identify with the action. It was evident that the piece was highly political and strongly opinionated; a political cabaret of sorts. I wander then, if my view of the work would have been strongly altered if I had understood. Quite honestly, in this case I’m quite glad that this language barrier exists.

For me, as a visual and oral spectacle the piece was absolutely beautiful, and utterly compelling. The level of performance was exactly what I would hope for from someone coming from Gardzienice and the content was a pleasant subversion to what I expected.

Grey Matter: A Play for Six Brains

Grey Matter was mostly a theatrical experiment. The performers, students of the MA Advanced Theatre Practice course at Central School of Speech and Drama, are giving us a small insight to who they are. There are six spotlights, six paper bags and six performers. Each performer is represented by a certain spot. Whichever performer is in their spot, will reflect on what they might think if they were that person. For example, Jonny might say; “If I had the brain of Melanie, I would know what it’s like to have blond hair”. The performers all rotate at certain points making sure that every person has the opportunity to test the brain of each of the others. The show was very simple and minimal. The performers attempted not to allow emotions cross the face, however their voices were very much alive. With this sort of work there is a danger that the performers would not be able to grasp the audience and bring them into their world. This company did not suffer this problem and they drew us in very effectively, which considering the majority of the audience only spoke English as a second language is no small achievement in itself. The show was very humorous as we gained not only an insight into who each person was but also to how they think about each other. Someone described as a sort of ‘psychological striptease’ and I think that’s a good observation. As the play went on this striptease became more violent and we were taken to slightly darker place with the sort of things being said. After this the play was opened up to the audience and we were told what we might be thinking. This was a great idea and there were a few moments where thoughts were planted in us. However, it was often far too vague who they were addressing; “If I had the brain of the man in the second row…”.

I enjoy this type of work but I always want to take it out of the theatrical space. I think this piece would benefit from the sort of fluid audience you might find in the middle of an art gallery or something like that.

This was a nice start point for a theatrical experiment and offered a small insight to the world of these people, but it did at times feel a bit naïve, a bit too simplistic. I would have liked to see this work go deeper into the psychology of these six brains.

DAY SIX

After watching the discussions I spoke to the Central and Gardzienice a bit. After this I went to see one of the more bizarre performances of the week: Endgame from The Higher School of Dramatic Arts of Malaga. The only way I can really describe this, is to say that if Tommy Wiseau was to direct a stage version of a Beckett play, it might be a little bit like this. The entire play really flew with some of Beckett’s ideas of the mundane, motionless existence of these characters. The acting was without a doubt, so terrible it was brilliant, and the actors didn’t seem to understand a single line they were saying. Strangely, the performers acted in English with Spanish subtitles projected on the certain behind. This also acted as an intentionally hilarious element of the plays dramaturgy. As the characters spoke the subtitles would jump across the wall, sometimes falling behind the actors performance and sometimes flying ahead. It’s also worth noting that the most convincing performance in the piece was that of the mother. I think it is testament to the work that she had only one scene and otherwise had to squat in a barrel for the entire piece. Another unexpected element of this performance was the audience’s reaction to it. Obviously people hated it, and with good cause. However, there was an absolute lack of respect for the show which actually made the whole thing that much more enjoyable, as people walked out slamming the door behind them, or wandering to the front of the stage to collect their bags, making a statement that they were leaving. This again called to mind The Room and I found myself wanting to get involved in the performance, calling to the actors or something.

After the show finished we all sighed deeply and left rather confused. The poor actors were only given one curtain call which I think is unheard of in Slovakia. Now I can’t quite explain why, but I felt very elated by the performance after having left. As if I’d just seen a really entertaining play, which I hadn’t. Another of us had an even stronger reaction, stating that he loved the show, but had no idea why. He knew it was bad, but genuinely loved it, stating that “That was Beckett!”

Now, I was kind of perplexed by this reaction, so I was really looking forward to seeing their discussion in the morning – But when I got there they didn’t turn up! They’d just gone home! I presume this is all part of their genius and I’m not convinced that every element of Endgame wasn’t designed meticulously to come off the way it did.

Not being able to bear another show straight after this, we ate and then went to an instillation that the puppetry group had created. It told the story of an old house and the people who had walked its stairs. The group used a number of ‘insubstantial objects’ that could easily be erased such as water, fire and shadow to create the piece. This worked really well with the building itself being mostly whitewashed walls and half remembered memories. The work was well executed and considering it was devised in only 10 days, it was very good.

We spent the evening drinking in KC Dunaj and three of us ended up going with our guides to the castle to watch the sun rise. When you’re up here looking down on Bratislava it is absolutely beautiful. The old buildings give the city a sort of fairy-tale feel and all the beer in my head made me feel quite affectionate towards the city.

DAY SEVEN

Today, our lovely guides took us to a wooded hill on the very outskirts of Bratislava. Here we  looked out over the hills and the city, drank shots of a strong Slovak spirit called Tatratea which I think we’re planning on polishing off tonight before our end of year ball at Rose Bruford. Later I tested another Slovakian spirit called Slivovica which I think is the sort of drink that is out to kill you, especially if you’re not much of a spirit drinker like me. Actually, I’ll write a bit about drinking in Slovakia later for those of you who are interested in such things.

Another thing we did on this hill was to go up into a cafe which is built in a TV and Radio tower (I think that’s what it was). Here you could look out over the entire city and surrounding countryside. What’s cool is that Bratislava is right on the border to Austria so we could see into there too. Actually, I remember on the second day here, we went up to the castle and I got all over excited about a Wind-farm I could see, but Zuzka told me, that was actually in Austria not Slovakia. Anyway, this was an absolutely beautiful view and another one of those moments in your life where you think “how much would I really be giving up if I did just ran away here…?”

Right then, drinks…

I’m not really a keen spirit drinker, instead I tend to like beer, and actually it’s become a bit of a personal thing, that I look forward to trying the beer of wherever I am going.

Zlaty-Bazant

A very easy, light beer. I think Zlaty-Bazant means Golden Pheasant and unsurprisingly has a picture of a golden Pheasant on the label. I quite enjoyed this beer, but the beautiful Zuzana informed me that it was in fact “a girl’s beer”. So, wanting to appear all manly and rugged in front of her, I decided not to drink any more of it.

Radegast

This beer is a little bit more manly I think. A bit more bitter and a little heavier. This was what was on tap in KC Dunaj and so it kind of became my default beer. It is very easy to drink and found myself downing pint after pint without too much consequence. A quick Wikipedia search will tell us that Radegast is the name of a god, and there is a Czeck saying: “Život je hořký: Bohudík” (Life is bitter: Thank God). I think there was also a character called Radegast in Lord of Rings, wasn’t there?

Pilsner-Urquell

Ah, we all know and love Pilsner – and if you don’t, you should. Pilsner-Urquell is the original Pilsner, and that means it’s the first ever pale lager. Find it. Drink it. Also, they have a great website!

Kelt

A dark, strong beer. It’s really good. Heavier that a lot of lagers. It’s brewed by Heineken now I think.

Staropramen

Staropramen own the second largest brewery in the Czech Republic apparently. It’s situated in Prague and Staropramen is their flagship product. It’s a nice, rich beer.

Tetratea

Tetratea is a really strong spirit. It’s apparently really versatile and can be drank in hot tea, with ice and in many other ways (we were drinking it neat). There are a whole bunch of different Tetratea products ranging from 32% alcohol all the way up to 72%. I think ours was 52% which is like the standard version. It’s sweet but hearty also, and it properly warms your bones. I’m going to try it in tea tonight. Literally can’t wait.

Slivovica

Like I said, this is the sort of drink that wants you dead. It’s a plum brandy and is categorized with Rakia, and actually I tend to like Rakia drinks (I remember vividly drinking raki mixed with water (which makes it go cloudy) in Turkey and really enjoying it). It’s very strong, dry and very tasty actually. I found it quite moreish. You should defiantly try it out.

Honerable mention – Some sort of honey whiskey. I’m not actually sure what this was, but I didn’t like it. Very sweet, far too sweet for me. However, it did come in beautifully decorated bottles. I should also mention Kofola which is a Solvakian soft drink and rival of Cola and Pepsi. It tastes kind of like Root Beer and has enough caffeine in to kill a small child.

And now on with the main story…

After all this we ventured back to KC Dunaj to drink and see the award ceremony of Istropolitana. Everyone was in good spirits and the whole thing was very enjoyable. People were really supportive of each other and the atmosphere was really nice.

We managed to bag two awards:

The Student Jury’s Best Production award – The trophy was a Bonzai tree, which someone told me is a sign for long lasting life. I thought this was kind of ironic seeing how hard the damn things are to keep alive. It’s a lovely little tree though and the perfect gift to give to our program head back at RB.

The Senior Jury’s Outstanding Achievement award – The trophy for this one is a statue of a Raven, which is the symbol of Matthias Corvinus, a Hungarian king who founded the first University in Bratislava, the ‘Universitas istropolitana’, in 1465.

Both awards come with a certificate with a picture a giant bloody, dead heart laying there, which is lovely. It’s very nice to win these awards, but even without them our time at Istroploitana has been wonderful.

And thus ends our Istropolitana chronicle. We continued to party until about 5am and then realized we’d better go back and pack as we were leaving at 7am. Not wanting to leave us our guides and the lovely Ludmilla decided to come with us, and so we turned up at our hotel with a small army of Slovakian women in trail. An hour later we were leaving.

Petra and Zuzka gave us some little heart necklaces to say goodbye and we gave them some flowers and a bottle of Pimms.

And that’s the end.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in the Istropolitana Projekt 2012 for such a wonderful and accommodating stay. Specifically, thanks to our guides; Petra, Zuzka, Alina and Tomas without whom we would have been lost and rowdy. I feel like I made some nice friends over this week. It was an absolute pleasure to be involved in Istropolitana 2012 and it saddens me that I won’t be involved next time.

I will upload one final post on Istropolitana in the next day or two with all our photos in. Also, I noticed I’ve had a lot of views from Slovakia – So hello my friends! Please do keep in touch.

 

Jack.

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