Play in Polish theatre accused of inciting audience to murder | World news

The producers of a controversial play in Poland are being investigated by state prosecutors over allegations they are inciting the audience to murder.

The Curse (Klątwa) is being staged at Teatr Powszechny in Warsaw and is directed by Oliver Frljić, a Croatian director. It examines the relationship between the Polish Catholic church and the state, and condemns the authorities for failing to respond to allegations of child abuse by members of the clergy.

In the play’s most notorious scene, an actor simulates oral sex on a plastic statue of the late Polish pope John Paul II, as a sign reads: “Defender of paedophiles”.

In another scene, an actor considers the legality of a fictional speech in which she would – hypothetically – raise money to pay for the assassination of Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).

The production has been sold out since it opened in February, but soon after its premiere, prosecutors – who have been overseen by the government since PiS won elections in 2015 – announced the production was under investigation.

Tymoteusz Zych, from the conservative advocacy group Ordo Iuris, which drew up proposals for a blanket ban on abortion that sparked street protests last year, has described the play as hate speech. He said the production “includes a number of scenes which have basic features of hate speech targeted against Christians and stigmatisation of this group”.

Jacek Kurski, a PiS official who was appointed director of state television after PiS assumed office, tweeted after the play opened: “There is and there will be no space on TV for degrading the sanctity of Poles or calling for political murder”.

Many of the scenes also deal provocatively with issues concerning religion and national identity in contemporary Poland, including abortion and Muslim migration.

One audience member was injured with a liquid corrosive during a protest against the production in May.



One audience member was injured with a liquid corrosive during a protest against the production in May. Photograph: Jakub Szafrański

The producers of The Curse have accused Poland’s state-controlled media of deliberately whipping up public anger that has led to heated protests and death threats against actors and theatre staff.

They claim the state broadcaster TVP made a recording of the production without its permission, and published excerpts removed from their wider context in a deliberate attempt to stoke public anger – in particular by misrepresenting the play as calling for Kaczyński’s assassination. The theatre is initiating legal action against TVP.

Last month members of religious and nationalist groups clashed with police and free speech advocates outside the theatre, letting off flares and attempting to block theatregoers from entering. One audience member was taken to hospital after apparently being attacked with a liquid corrosive.

Paweł Łysak, Teatr Powszechny’s director, insisted that the play’s ire is not focused on Christians or Christianity. “This is about how politicians and the church use ideology. This is not about God, this is not about beliefs, this is not about Jesus, not about the Virgin Mary. This is about institutions and oppression by these institutions.”

The Curse is a loose adaptation of a 19th century play of the same name by the Polish polymath Stanisław Wyspiański. Written in 1899, it is set in a village in southern Poland that blames a severe drought on the sexual relationship between their village priest and a local girl. In a fit of hysteria, the mob turns not on the priest but on the girl, stoning her to death.

Łysak said the subject matter remained pertinent: “It has been a hundred years since Wyspiański wrote the play, and we have the same problems.”

TVP has since cancelled a production in which Julia Wyszyńska, who performs in the scene featuring the statue of John Paul II, was due to play a leading role.

The government’s response to The Curse has exacerbated concerns about its commitment to freedom of artistic expression. In 2015 the culture minister, Piotr Gliński, attempted to ban a production in the western city of Wrocław on the grounds that public money should not be used to subsidise “pornography”. Gliński also withdrew state funding from the Malta theatre festival in the western city of Poznań, which this year is being curated by Frljić.

Frljić, however, has said the state-led backlash has simply proved The Curse’s point. “It is not just what’s going on on stage, it’s what happens in a broader social context,” he said. “It would be great if the protesters could understand that they too are part of this performance.”

Source link