The Madman and The Nun

A new adaptation of the avant-garde play “The Madman and The Nun” by Witkacy 9th-13th June 2014

The Madman and The Nun is the play originally written by the Polish playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (or Witkacy as he was known) in 1923. Stanislaw Witkiewicz (1885-1939) was a Polish playwright, novelist, painter, photographer and philosopher. Witkacy can be described as a Polish musketeer of the Polish Avant-garde. He “created a theater of the absurd twenty years before Beckett, Ionesco, and Genet. He himself was a living model of the avant-garde, advancing the frontiers of drama, fiction, aesthetics, philosophy and painting” (Daniel Gerould). Janusz Degler, the author of Witkacy’s biography Witkacy’s Multiple Portrait depicted recollections of one of the actresses who remembered Witkacy saying: ‘There are three basic motors of all human activity: money, women, and power.’
The Madman and The Nun is a short play in three acts and four scenes, set entirely in a ‘‘cell for raving maniacs’’ in a lunatic asylum. The play makes the comment on the connection between mental illness, art and creativity. The play challenges the boundaries of reality and sanity by defying conventional theatrical and societal authorities. The main character — a talented poet and drug addict (oppressed by the State and the Church) has to fight for his individuality. The Madman says: ‘I’m a living corpse’. If you do not fulfil your real potential as a person (the Madman wants to be a poet again, and not an artist in confinement/an inmate) you are not going to be the most happiest and fulfilled person you can be. Sister Anna is also imprisoned, but in a different way, constrained by her nun’s habit and the strict rules of her religious order. The play permeates in sexuality and Freudian psychoanalysis. Both Polish and Irish audiences could relate to the themes depicted in the play. Ireland and Poland have both been directly or indirectly suppressed by other States and had to fight for freedom. Both Ireland and Poland are very Catholic countries embedded in guilt and sexual repression.
During the production process of The Madman and The Nun, as a collective team Enigma Theatre drew inspiration from Samuel Beckett and Tadeusz Kantor. Kantor was extremely inspired by Witkacy’s paintings and plays and his theatre was profoundly revolutionary. Our team members were Polish, Irish and French. As a team, we reflected on the work of these two major theatre practitioners. Beckett and Kantor – the artists we looked at and their work enacted as a bridge for our creative process. Both, Beckett and Kantor were interested in French culture and preoccupied with the themes of family, death and memories in their works.
The Theatre of the Absurd in Karolina Szemerda’s adaptation of The Madman and The Nun comes across in a lot of interactions. In the opening scene, there are characters that look like silhouettes in the church like windows (in the theatre space in Smock Alley Theatre) moving around and making repetitive gestures. Two characters who are in the wardrobe peep out every so often which reminds Irish audiences of Nag and Nell in Beckett’s Endgame. Also, they are characters who die in the play and then come back to life. There is a scene when one character dies and there is another character who sings a song and another one begins to dance around the corpse. This corpse later reappears in the play. Ciara Murphy, an Irish reviewer described the final scene of the play as ‘‘the highlight of the piece, combining modern and original elements of the play, the ensemble [that] creates a crescendo of energy, absurdity and creativity that leave the audience interested and amused.’’ [Public Reviews] Enigma Theatre got great reviews (from RTE among others) and sold out all the shows which were performed in Smock Alley Theatre, one of the most innovative theatres in Dublin. We met creative and passionate people who supported us in producing the play. One of the biggest achievements was that Smock Alley Theatre offered to be our partner with regard to future productions. We have learnt that support was a huge factor in our success. All limitations that we overcame along the way have engendered creativity and fearlessness.