A View from Bell Square's Artistic Director: Silence comes to London

Intro When Teatr Biuro Podróży premiered their new show, Silence, in 2016, I did wonder what to expect.  It was described as a sequel to their earlier show, Carmen Funebre – or Funeral Song.  Carmen Funebre was a show about the impact of war on civilians as the former Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s.  It was a mighty piece of theatre, uncompromising and searing in its impact.  It is also known as one of the most legendary pieces of outdoor arts ever made.  So, would this sequel live up to its predecessor’s reputation?  Like most people that night, as the show came to an end, I was left stunned, in silence.  As the company took their bows at the end of the performance, it was some moments before the silence gave way to applause.  The intensity of those few moments have stayed with me ever since.

As this wonderful show comes to Bell Square on 9 September, you may like to know a little of the background of Teatr Biuro Podróży and Silence.

The company This famed Polish outdoor theatre company was set up by Paweł Szkotak with a group of young and passionate actors in Poznan in 1988.  Since then, they have created 14 different theatre productions, and performed over a thousand times for audiences in 50 different countries.  They have always been determined to make theatre in a different way to accepted traditions, and to make that theatre for people who don’t normally go to well-known theatre institutions.  They care about people and the stories of their lives.  Teatr Biuro Podróży’s shows are social, political and powerful.

The company emerged onto the scene as civil resistance in Poland demonstrated the people’s demand for change and led to the end of communist rule in the summer of 1989.  The new company came up with the name Biuro Podróży, which means Travel Agency.  In a country behind the Iron Curtain, very few people were able to obtain passports.  As the rest could travel only in their imagination, the ironically-named Teatr Biuro Podróży offered an ‘escape’ through theatre.

The group’s most famous piece, Carmen Funebre, was made in 1993-94.  As the Balkans Wars raged, just south of Poland, and the former Yugoslavia broke up, 4 million people were displaced in the 10 years from 1991-2001.  Carmen Funebre was based on interviews with victims of the wars and specifically explored the impact of war on civilians.  This seminal theatre production continues to tour the world today.

Silence In Silence, the sequel to Carmen Funebre, the company returns to the story of refugees and migrants caught up in the spiral of war.  Directed by its founder, Paweł Szkotak, the show uses physical theatre, overwhelming music, and the highly visual effects of fire, and tyrants towering on stilts, to tell the story of people again trapped in the turmoil of war.  In the context of carnage and cleansing in the Middle East, Teatr Biuro Podróży tell the fate of refugees caught up in the mass exodus to Europe, looking for a safer place.

In Silence, the situation is seen from the viewpoint of someone living in a besieged city, a city destroyed by bombs.  Someone who, a few years ago, could never have imagined that they would one day become a refugee. Children are represented through life size puppets – the innocent witnesses of the death of loved ones, and the victims of exile and starvation.  Silence asks that, for a moment, we put ourselves in their world.

Teatr Biuro Podróży present Silence at Bell Square on Saturday 9 September 2017 at 8.00 pm.  The show lasts 50 minutes. For full listing and video trailer click here