Sunday, January 25, 2009

A jolly good play - CDHN reviews 'Fiddler on the roof'

The fiddler on the roof (Skrzypek na dachu), Teatr Muzyczny, Gdynia, December 2008

Arriving outside the theatre on this chilly December evening, I immediately sensed something was amiss. I could not contain the distinct impression that some of the guests did not arrive in limousins. Some even seemed to drive their own cars. Flustered, I asked my servant Zdzisław for an explanation. „We ARE going to the theatre, right? Does my lorgnette need polishing or does this place look like Paris just before the storming of the Bastille?” Zdzisław took my coat and assured me I would meet like-minded individuals inside, so with some foreboding I decided to take the risk and entered the foyer of Teatr Muzyczny in Gdynia. Safe and sound in my box in the theatre I again retrieved my lorgnette from my waist pocket and took a closer look around. Much to my satisfaction, Gdynia Yacht Club had a strong presence tonight. I also spotted some of the most venerated members of Ujeścisko Fox Hunting Society as well as Lord Ossoliński, head of the Wicket Department in Zaspa Cricket Association.

However, just as I was about to light my favourite cigar, a most hideous spectacle presented itself before my eyes. A shabbily dressed individual appeared on stage playing some kind of instrument that Zdzisław claimed to be a ‘fiddle’, apparently a close relative of the violin. Suffice it to say that if the violin is the racehorse among instruments, then this fiddle-thing is the run-down old nag you would put in front of a cart loaded with potatoes. My first thought was that the fiddling entity on stage was a Gipsy – somewhat to my puzzlement, since I had not ordered a Gipsy band to play. Quite frankly, I find them a little bit threatening, with their black hair and imposing manners. Some of my companions in the Gdynia yacht club seem to appreciate or at least tolerate their presence. I on the other hand always bring my flyswatter when I go to a restaurant. You have no idea how effiecient a smack from the flyswatter is! It is highly amusing to see the little vagabond musicians run for their lives with their ragged ‘clothes’ flying in all directions. My long term golf partner Henryk is a sworn follower of the slingshot, but I myself think a flyswatter does the trick. A slingshot might inflict more physical pain, but punishment meted out by way of a flyswater adds an element of humiliation that sometimes is just as effective. It sends a clear message to the Gipsy: ‘You are of no more standing than a fly, thus a flyswater is the only appropriate instrument.’

As the Gipsy demonstrated a lack of willingness to make himself scarce, I decided, as Gdynia Yacht Club’s most senior member present, to assume command. I resolutely approached the doorman with a polite but firm request to have this inconvenience removed. The doorman however just looked at me as though he was oblivious to my order. I sighed and showed him my membership card from Gdynia Yacht Club. ‘Could you please honour my request, you degenerate little lower class turd?’ To my complete bafflement, the impertinent creature still refused to act. I duly slapped his face and intended to proceed to the stage to remove the Gipsy plague myself, but suddenly I felt overtaken by an attack of dizziness. Sitting down in my arm chair I recalled my doctor’s orders from yesterday. ‘Your organism reacts negatively when exposed to elements from the lower spheres of society. Simply try to avoid them.’ Avoid? They are everywhere these days. I bought myself a villa in Orłowo in the vain hope that I would not have to suffer their company. As if! Hords of them come strolling along the beach promenade on Sundays, more often than not carrying their offspring with them. And yes, Dear Reader, I know we need them to do our laundry and clean our toilets, but do they have to be so... well, straightforward about their existence? Can they not just find themselves a hole in the ground somewhere?

Anyway, what was there to be done except follow my doctor’s orders? All the more since after a lifelong diet consisting exclusively of Filet mignon, vintage Cognac and Belgian chocolate my heart muscle has the vitality of a punctured football. So I leaned back in my chair, waiting for the gipsy to retire from the stage. Which he eventually did. Relieved, I sprayed my surroundings with air freshener in case some of the vile lower class stench had seeped into my box . Finally, I thought to myself, let me breathe some culture!

God, what misdeeds have I been guilty of to deserve such a treatment? For the Gipsy departed only to be replaced by what must have been dozens of his tribal companions. The stage was swarming with filth. They were all over the place, singing, shouting, jumping. I must confess, Dear Reader, that for a moment I panicked. I threw my arms around the gentleman in the box next to me, Zygmunt, the revered vice president of Ujeścisko Fox Hunting Society. ‘The revolution is breaking out!’ I screamed. ‘We are doomed!’ My fox hunting companion was also alarmed, but showed impressive calm in the situation. ‘All is not lost, my friend. What if I use my fox hunting skills to take them out?’ He retrieved his mobile and dialled a number. ‘I’m calling the assistant director of Ujeścisko Fox Hunting Society to send a shipment of horses and fox hounds to put an end to the turbulence’. ‘And my golf clubs might come in handy,’ I added, already imagining myself beating away at a member of the lower classes with religious fervour. Arkadiusz, a distinguished wine taster and tobacco plantation owner from Upper Sopot, joined us. ‘Do not despair, my friends! My recipe for stifling disorder is as follows: Get your cook to prepare a meal of the most exquisite filet mignon imaginable. The tattered insurgents will throw themselves over this meal like a pack of stray dogs over a bone. With glee they will devour the consummate meal – digging their own grave in the process! Because their digestive systems are only used to raw potatoes and rotten cabbage and will not handle culinary delicacies of this kind. While the subversive scum suffer the most brutal attack of bellyache, we will have plenty of time to crush the disturbances.’

Plotting the restoration of order, it suddenly came to our attention that the curtain had fallen and the Gipsys disappeared. What was this? A devious ploy from the lower orders to lull us into a false sense of security?

Apparently, as was explained to us by Stanisław Potocki, Honorary Director of Golf Park Gdynia, this signalled the break between the 2 acts and the underprivileged creatures on stage were not an insurrectionary crowd but – God help me – ACTORS. Yes, we were in fact watching a comedy, where real actors dressed up as lower class sewage were jumping around on stage to our amusement!

Golf Park Gdynia in Orłowo

With a mischiveous smile on his face, Zygmunt whispered something in his servants’ ear.
Just in time for the second act, his servant reappeared equipped with... 3 sets of monkey costumes.

‘I guess it’s ‘make fun of the poor’ day today!’ Zygmunt cheered. ‘Tally-ho, my friend! Here’s one for you too!’

It suddenly dawned on me what the naughty fox hunter had in mind. Hence, with the utmost haste I crept into my monkey outfit. 2 minutes later, Zygmunt, Arkadiusz and myself were dancing around in our monkey costumes on stage, engaging in orangutang acrobatics, making monkey sounds, pulling funny faces and generally pretending to be poor people. I hadn’t had such a jolly good time since uncle Jan let us kids watch the gardener being forced to cut the lawn with his teeth.

Ujeścisko Fox Hunting society - proud bearers of tradition

So, Dear Reader, how do I judge the artistic value of this particular play? Let me just say that I think our somewhat erroneous initial reaction testifies to the astonishing lifelikeness of it all. The filthy rags, the lack of diction, the greasy hair, the pig-like manners – it was a phenomenal display of lower class life at its worst – or should I say best? And if I may add one thing: Yes, I know there are differences between various fractions of the social elite; some of us prefer yachting, others golf while yet others again cultivate the fine leisure pursuits of polo, cricket, horse racing or fox hunting. But jumping around on stage making fun of the poor I realized how infinitely much more there is that unites us than that which separates us. This gentleman might be addicted to Russian caviar, the one sitting in the plush arm chair over there might prefer goose liver while that fine upper class specimen battling on the cricket pitch stubbornly refuses to eat anything but white truffles. Ultimately, however, we are all members of the same estate, the same class, united in our utter contempt for the working people. Last summer, we all suffered some terrifying traumas when the Orłowo golfers sued the Ujeścisko Fox Hunting Society for running their horses over Golf Park Gdynia and letting their fox hounds do their business in the holes next to the flags. For a while there, many of us forgot that whatever differences separate us, they are of a most trifling magnitude compared to the unabridgable gap that divides us all from the riff raff. The most wretched among us – the image of Count Zamoyski mistaking his poodle for his wife at one of the garden parties in Orłowo last summer springs to mind - is worth infinitely more than the most brilliant of their kind.