Polish theatre company Studio Matejka’s play is a wonderful introduction to the powerful art of physical theatre.
It’s strange how language feels unnecessary sometimes, and without words, the ground becomes more level, more relatable. Studio Matejka is a physical theatre laboratory from Poland, and its non-verbal play, “Awkward Happiness”, or Everything I Don’t Remember About Meeting You, was performed at the 16th Bharat Rang Mahotsav. Directed by Matej Matejka, it had a handful of words, in a handful of languages, and even if most of them were Greek to you, you’d come out from the play with a sense of understanding, even illumination.
With four characters and minimum props, the play was a visual treat, a performance that thrilled the audience, enough for it to break out in applause at frequent intervals. At the centre of the play were two ‘couples’, a loose term that implies intimacy, sometimes sexual, sometimes antagonistic. The play feels, almost from the beginning, like a journey. Opening with a dimly-lit stage that boasts of just one prop, a wooden stool and four young people, two men and two women, sitting with their back to the audience, there is already a sense of quiet mystery and curiosity infused. We meet these four characters one by one. A line here in Polish or English, a sentence there in French or Slovak, is all we hear from them. A medley of voices that segue into a physical representation of words, the play is beautiful above everything else. Each gesture, each sound and each step blends into the next, and the effect is overwhelming.
The story, in the most abstract sense of the word, follows the two couple in their journey to understand and discover happiness. The intimacy of the relationships provides a space that is both harsh and exploring. Every action conveys a secret, a piece in the jigsaw that will reveal happiness, if it can be found at all.
The actors, who also double as authors of the play, execute their roles with an intensity that is, at one level, disturbingly real. The audience feels removed and separate, like voyeurs watching an intimate moment. The emotions, that would have been simple and straightforward if conveyed through words, become raw and heightened. The concept of physical theatre allows for a multilayered, ambiguous form of storytelling, one that allows for a single linear story line to emerge, but also plays with the idea of sheer, abstract concepts simultaneously. Studio Matejka’s performance, result of a two-year reflection and questioning on the themes of human relationships, happiness, dreams and desires, is also inspired by writings of Yehuda Amichai, Wanda Bacewicz (Narkotyk) and Milan Kundera.
The result is a breathtaking, striking play, one that doesn’t answer questions, but makes observations that can double as solutions. As the performers display incredible agility, grace and stamina, they also speak through these very actions. The music, played once again by the performers/authors, has very clearly been chosen to add to this non-verbal play, replacing words with notes and rhythms, as with the physical perforce.
It’s possible that the play can be a little difficult to understand, to break down and translate in regular words, but this is probably what stands out the most about it too. It does tell a story, but one that can only be expressed by silences.
Awkward Happiness (Physical Theatre Performance)
Authors: Guillaumarc Froidevaux, Daniel Han, Zuzana Kakalikova, Magdalena Koza
Director: Matej Matejka
Group: Studio Matejka, Poland