Low Countries in Polish theatres

Polish theatre productions on Dutch-language literature between 2010 and 2021

Reception of Dutch literature in Poland is a lively discussed topic among Polish scholars in the field of Dutch studies. There are numerous texts that describe in detail the translations and the editions of Dutch-language authors in Poland. Significant number of books from the Netherlands and Flanders is translated into Polish every year, which leads occasionally to greater success. It is especially the case when it comes to texts that have already been noticed and discussed on the international stage. Nevertheless, it is worthy to investigate the subsequent reception of this literature, it is not surprising after all that these stories arouse the interest of foreign artists and take on a life on their own. In the Polish theatres, plays based on literature from the Netherlands or Flanders, have become more common in latest years. This is an attempt to research the presence of Dutch and Flemish texts in Polish theatres nowadays.

The database that has been used to inquire an overview of polish theatrical productions was ‘Encyclopaedia of the Polish theatre’ of Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute. This database was searched back to the year 2010, however between 2010 and 2012 there was no production matching the criteria of the research[1]. A preliminary overview of all 23 theatrical Dutch-literature-based productions, of which the premiere took place in the last 11 years, was assembled.

[1] In 2010 however two premieres took place which could be mentioned within this topic. First of them was ‘Caritas. Dwie minuty ciszy’ (‘Caritas, two minutes of silence’) by the Wilam Horzyca Theatre in Toruń which invited Flemish actress and director Lies Pauwels, though her text was originally written in English. This invitation was related to the prize which Pauwels’ performance ‘White Star’ received on the international theatre festival ‘Kontakt’ in 2005. Second noteworthy example is the opera ‘La libertá chiama la libertá’ by Eugeniusz Knapik on the libretto written by well-known Flemish theatremaker Jan Fabre.

Poster of theatre adaptation of "De verjaardag van alle anderen" in Poznan Theatre of Animation, directed by Dorota Abbe

The first phenomenon that draws attention are the several texts that have been staged multiple times. In the last eleven years, the literary source, which have been put on stage most often, was ‘De kus’ (‘The kiss’) by Ger Thijs. Four separately developed productions of the theatres in Warsaw, Szczecin, Łódź and Gdynia were performed under the polish title ‘Pocałunek’. Noteworthy is that all the premieres took place within a short period of five years after the first performance in the Netherlands.

Four other texts that were staged twice between 2010 and 2021 are the Anne Frank’s memoir and three children’s books by Toon Tellegen: ‘Bijna iedereen kon omvallen’ (‘Not Everyone Could Fall Over’), ‘De verjaardag van alle anderen’ (‘Everyone Else’s Birthday’) and ‘Mijn vader’ (‘My father’). This also confirms the important position of works for children among the Polish stage adaptations of Dutch literature. Almost half (i.e., twelve) of all eligible productions are aimed at children. During discussed period, Toon Tellegen was the most popular Dutch-language author among Polish theatremakers: there were six different stage adaptations of his books (two of each text mentioned above) put before the public.

It is also remarkable that only five of all seventeen titles that has been used as literary material for the stage were originally written as theatre texts: Ger Thijs’ ‘De kus’, ‘Antigone in Molenbeek’ by Stefan Hertmans, ‘Gif’ (‘Poison’) and ‘Vals’ (‘False’) by Lot Vekemans, and ‘Volmaakt geluk’ (‘Perfect happiness’) by Peter de Baan and Charles den Tex. Beside to Ger Thijs, the most frequently chosen by Polish theatre makers Dutch dramatist is Lot Vekemans. The other twelve productions are adaptations of prose texts, sometimes even more than one: the play ‘Żabka’ (‘Frog’) by Poznan Theatre of Animation is based on several books from the series about the Frog by Max Velthuijs.

The number of productions per theatre institution is very small in any case. The maximum number is two, i.e., there is no theatre institution or theatre group with a special interest in Dutch literature. The theatres that presented more than one Dutch text to their audience are: Alojzy Smolka Puppet and Actor Theatre in Opole, Poznan Theatre of Animation and Jerzy Szaniawski Drama Theatre in Walbrzych. The fact that two of the above theatres are puppet theatres cannot stay unnoticed. Dutch children's literature is apparently found very useful by Polish puppet theatre makers, as seven of all productions were prepared by puppet theatres.

To conclude this brief discussion of collected data I would like to name three elements which absence can be seen as surprising. First of all, in the last eleven years, there is no director who cherishes special interest in Dutch literature (each director is responsible for only one play). Amongst the people who prepared the adaptation of the texts for the stage, one person can be found, who participated in two of the productions: Amadeusz Nosal, who adapted Kuijer's ‘Het boek van alle dingen’ (‘The Book of Everything’, see more on the adaptations of this text in the article on The Polish reception of Het boek van alle dingen by Guus Kuijer) and Van Haele's ‘De stille zee’ (‘The silent sea’) into stage texts. Secondly, no early literature was presented on stage: the oldest used text is Anne Frank's diary (1947). Nineteen productions are based on texts published after 1990.

Finally, it can be noted that a larger part (15 out of 24 productions) is based on texts which were directly translated from Dutch. Only for five productions were indirect translations used, which were based on an earlier English translation. One translation (‘Gif’ by Lot Vekemans) is probably based on the German text. Additionally, on one case French was the source language for the translation (it was an adaptation of an Italian production of Gioco Vita Theatre in Piacenza). The texts translated indirectly from English were only those which were originally intended for the theatre (‘De kus’ and ‘Volmaakt geluk’).

In this short article, only selected, most striking aspects of the reception of Dutch literature in Polish theatres have been considered. The main conclusions that can be drawn from this small study are that the literature of the Low Countries (both children's and youth literature, and texts for adults equally) lives in Poland not only in the written form of books, but also on the stages of Polish theatres, which are adapting these texts into new productions with moderately increasing interest. Besides well-known authors such as Stefan Hertmans or Toon Tellegen, also new names from Dutch and Flemish literary stage occur in the repertoire of Polish theatres. The theatre makers do not only choose texts intended for theatre, but also fairly often adapt prose. Theatres all over the country offer diverse productions of Dutch literature.



(Jan Załęcki)


Encyklopedia Teatru Polskiego. (2010). La libertà chiama la libertà. https://encyklopediateatru.pl/przedstawienie/46811/la-libert-chiama-la-libert
Encyklopedia Teatru Polskiego. (2013). Rachatłukum. https://encyklopediateatru.pl/przedstawienie/48665/rachatlukum#
Encyklopedia Teatru Polskiego. (2013). Kawa, ser i chleb. https://encyklopediateatru.pl/przedstawienie/48966/kawa-chleb-i-ser
Encyklopedia Teatru Polskiego. (2016). Pocałunek. https://encyklopediateatru.pl/przedstawienie/67460/pocalunek
Encyklopedia Teatru Polskiego. (2016). A. F. Dziennik. https://encyklopediateatru.pl/przedstawienie/60891/a-f-dziennik
Encyklopedia Teatru Polskiego. (2016). Urodziny prawie wszystkich. https://encyklopediateatru.pl/przedstawienie/64217/urodziny-prawie-wszystkich
e-teatr.pl. (2018). Morze ciche. https://e-teatr.pl/morze-ciche-s21776
Krakowski Teatr Scena STU. (2018). Trucizna.  
Malta Festival Poznań. (2018). Antygona w Molenbeek. https://2018.malta-festival.pl/pl/program/antygona-w-molenbeek--czytanie-performatywne-2
Opolski Teatr Lalki i Aktora. (2014). Liściki na wiatr. http://teatrlalki.opole.pl/spektakl/spektakl-festiwalowy/
Opolski Teatr Lalki i Aktora. (2019). Dziennik Anne Frank. https://e-teatr.pl/morze-ciche-s21776
Teatr Animacji. (2016). Żabka. https://teatranimacji.pl/spektakl/zabka/
Teatr Animacji. (2021). Urodziny prawie wszystkich, czyli piękno różnorodności. https://teatranimacji.pl/spektakl/urodziny-prawie-wszystkich-czyli-piekno-roznorodnosci/
Teatr Ateneum. (2013). Pocałunek. https://teatrateneum.pl/?p=8421
Teatr Dramatyczny im. Jerzego Szaniawskiego w Wałbrzychu. (2015). Tutaj jest wszystko. https://teatr.walbrzych.pl/dzialalnosc-czyli-spektakle/spektakle-dormanowskie/tutaj-jest-wszystko/
Teatr Dramatyczny im. Jerzego Szaniawskiego w Wałbrzychu. (2017). Kiedy mój tata zamienił się w krzak. https://teatr.walbrzych.pl/dzialalnosc-czyli-spektakle/spektakle-dormanowskie/kiedy-moj-tata-zmienil-sie-w-krzak/
Teatr im. Adama Mickiewicza w Częstochowie. (2020). Fałsz. https://www.teatr-mickiewicza.pl/sp229,Falsz-
Teatr im. Wilama Horzycy w Toruniu. (2010). Caritas. Dwie minuty ciszy. https://teatr.torun.pl/spektakle/caritas-dwie-minuty-ciszy/
Teatr Lalek Arlekin im. Henryka Ryla w Łodzi. (2021). Tata. http://teatrarlekin.pl/pl/tata-2
Teatr Lalek Guliwer. (2018). Tata. https://teatrguliwer.pl/spektakl/tata/
Teatr Maska w Rzeszowie. (2019). Wystarczy być. https://www.teatrmaska.pl/spektakle/dzieci/wystarczy-byc,spektakl585/
Teatr Powszechny w Łodzi. (2015). Pocałunek. https://powszechny.pl/pl/teatr/spektakle/teatr-dla-niewidomych-i-slabo-widzacych-pocalunek-ger-thijs/
Teatr Współczesny w Szczecinie. (2014). Pocałunek. https://wspolczesny.szczecin.pl/pocalunek/
Teatr Współczesny we Wrocławiu. (2021). Tirza. https://www.wteatrw.pl/Tirza,10,68
Teatr Wybrzeże. (2016). Pełnia szczęścia. https://www.teatrwybrzeze.pl/spektakle/pelnia-szczescia