Chatting, singing, grinning, gurning, the eight-strong cast of Artur Urbański's Śliskie słowa greet the audience before we enter the auditorium at Teatr Studyjny, via two TV screens set up in the foyer that present the actors individually, against different backgrounds, as "talking heads." It's a cool introduction to a show, which, as its title ("Slippery words") suggests, is much concerned with language: its expressive capabilities and its limitations; how it can be embraced, deconstructed, transcended, remade.
The third and (aw!) final Diploma Show for this year's graduating contingent of Łódź Film School Acting Students, Śliskie słowa is a different beast to its two predecessors, offering neither an exhilarating collage of material as in Mariusz Grzegorzek's visionary Fever nor a fresh, distilled take on a modern classic as represented by Małgorzata Bogajewska's production of Angels in America. Rather, the new show has been built up from improvisation, an experimental approach designed, in the words of director Urbański, to give the actors "a chance to think differently about dramatic structure and character-building."
The results are confident, strange and exciting. A timely thematic throughline of male/female relationship dynamics emerges, from the haunting opening moments, in which Faustyna Kazimierska and Filip Warot - slacklining and headstanding - share a shadowy balletic introduction that's one of several thrilling moments of movement featured in the show (and co-choreographed by the actors).
The sequence segues into a bravura display from Karol Nowiński, who turns the stage-floor floury as a celeb chef with a dark side, one that's fully revealed later in a taut scene with the excellent Katarzyna Majda that shifts from playful seduction into deeply disturbing territory.
Meanwhile, Anna Paliga's love-seeking cashier Renata has a memorable Żabka meltdown with Karol Kunysz's well-drawn divorcé. Aleksandra Skraba bounces in benignly as Małolta, before morphing into the show's most rebellious and questioning presence. Skraba is startlingly good here, whether unleashing an epic string of "kurwas!" or taking to the mic with punk zeal to continue her "A-Z" alphabet run down; this process is begun in one of the production's most magical interludes, the stage flooded with purple light and falling bubbles. It would have been great to see more of the striking Jan Hrynkiewicz as the enigmatic "Silk Boy" but he and Skraba at least get a few memorable moments together.
As Natalia Spychała's animations spin letters into psychedelic shapes, there are surprise revelations; the gorgeously melancholic sound of Kevin Morby's "Harlem River"; and a re-appearance for Majda - clutching balloons in a red dress - that, intentionally or otherwise, evokes Rosalie Craig's Bobbie in Marianne Elliott's just-closed Company. You leave the theatre surprised, challenged, confounded - and assured that, thanks to the great talent and versatility of these emerging young actors, the future of the Polish dramatic arts is in safe - and daring - hands.
Śliskie słowa is at Teatr Studyjny between 25-28 April. Further information here.
Photos: Aleksandra Pawłowska