The Comet (Kometa)
Print Room at the Coronet
Reviewed – 21st March 2018
“slips from a slow, near-silent pacing to a cacophony of motion and noise”
The eclectic surroundings of the Coronet are the perfect setting for ‘The Comet’, a UK premiere by acclaimed directors Teresa and Andrzej Welminski. The play is inspired by the life and works of Polish author, Bruno Schulz, whose alikeness to Kafka is often referred to – subterranean yet colourful imagination, stuttering on crooked paths between the real and the unreal – though he never attained the same notoriety. He was shot dead by an SS officer in 1942 while walking through an Aryan part of his town and his surviving literature consists of just two collections of short stories published before the war. The rest, left for safe keeping with various people, has never surfaced.
Most of his writing is about his childhood but with a disorientation of memory which avoids sentimental nostalgia. In particular, and like Kafka, his father plays a dominant, almost obsessive, part in this reminiscence. ‘The Comet’ focuses on the last story in the first collection, ‘Street of Crocodiles’ (‘Cinnamon Shops’ in the Polish original) which describes how a father, Jakub, becomes fascinated with scientific discoveries and stages experiments which become magic shows and illusions. Then, with the news of an impending apocalypse, festive excitement paradoxically sets in among the townsfolk.
For this production of ‘The Comet’ (preceded by a short, animated film by the Quay Brothers, also based on the book) the Welminskis have assembled a cast of vibrant and talented actors from different generations and genres. Breaking away from traditional drama they create, through them, an expression of Schulz’s world. The principles of autonomy and equality of roles emphasised in their style of working allows the characters to develop strong, individual personalities as well as melding harmoniously together. Expressive mime and movement not only convey the narration but also illustrate the peculiarity of his vision; it slips from a slow, near-silent pacing to a cacophony of motion and noise.
The black and white costumes hark back to the silent movies, defining each personality with simplicity. Unique props, disproportionate in size, emphasise the distortion which is so apparent in Schulz’s writing and intricate mechanisms echo the transformations and metamorphoses detailed in his descriptions, read aloud to us by a lugubrious narrator. There is a mixture of strikingly imaginative recorded sound, dreamy singing and expressive vocal effects which amplify the mood of the scenes. The lighting is brilliantly designed for its dramatic force, its presence heightening and diminishing the balance of tension (Technical Director – Manuel Frenda).
‘The Comet’ as a piece of physical theatre has an immediacy which bypasses the intellectual response to the words of a script, to evoke a more visceral reaction. It is as if we have peeped briefly through a keyhole into a world in continuum. The actors bring this moment to life with energy and originality which, added to the ingeniously unrefined props and artistic technical aspects, make for an experience which is a wonderfully vivid and amusing journey into the surreal, with plenty of what Schulz called ‘mythicisation of reality’ to mull over afterwards.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Jacek Maria Stoklosa
Print Room at the Coronet until 24th March