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O’Reilly Theatre

THEATRE FESTIVAL REVIEW:GRZEGORZ JARZYNA’S audacious and often astounding adaptation of Pier Paulo Pasolini’s 1968 film Teorema, itself a poetic diatribe against bourgeois vacuity, begins with a man who has all the answers. A factory owner and, it would appear, a public figure, Jan Englert’s rigid industrialist responds to questions about culture, society and religion with a certainty matched only by pessimism. He believes in none of them.

Inflexibility, as any twig will demonstrate, is the surest way of being broken. The story that follows, played out on a set just slightly smaller than a soccer pitch, may chronicle his family’s salvation or its damnation, but certainly its destruction.

Introduced to us through a stately series of domestic tableaux, with anarchy pawing at the edges, the family appear as handsome, idle and damaged as any in Chekhov. A guest arrives (Sebastian Pawlak), announced but uninvited, and proceeds to seduce each family member in turn – maid, brother, mother, sister and father – converting everyone to new beliefs, like a sexualised Christ. Then he departs and the family disintegrates.

Fascinatingly faithful to Pasolini’s film, but incorporating his later novel and a stew of Jarzna’s own embellishments and references, TR Warsawa’s production retains much spirit of the 1960s counter-culture: the implausibly hollow bourgeoisie; a faith in mind-expanding libertinism; and a puckish messenger figure – Rafal Mackowiak’s Angiolino – who seems to know the real deal, daddio. But it presents them with such bold, precise theatricality and nerveless performances, that the gestures become more potently symbolic.

There is a stunning sparseness to Magdalena Maciejewska’s modernist design, which makes Jacqueline Sobiszewski’s lights all the more striking, and the dialogue often reflects that starkness. But the production becomes flooded with movement, ideas and motifs; some of them heady with Oedipal resonance and Tolstoy allusions, others a bemusing array of jokey music cues, or a wacky chorus of animated birds on telephone wires. A production keen to chip away at hubristic ideologies is never going to cleave to one style or conclude with instructive answers. But the grace of its artistry, and its haunting effect, delivers something more useful than the cold proof of a theorem: we emerge from it asking much better questions.