Inny teatr
Tadeusz Kornaś
"Brand" by Henrik Ibsen
A Rose in a Block of Ice

Brand, by Henrik Ibsen, edited and directed by Marcin Jarnuszkiewicz, designed by Katarzyna Jarnuszkiewicz, music by Krzysztof Lipka, Marcin Jarnuszkiewicz, at the Teatr im. Jaracza of Lodz. Premiere February 7,1998.

A floor of rough boards covers the stage. Scaffoldings on the sides with stone blocks and little stones scattered here and there. A block of ice on one of the scaffoldings. The stage horizon is a white surface with strange blotches reminiscent of clouds, snow, an avalanche. Upon closer examination of this whiteness we can discern faint lines which converge in a perspective suggesting a mysterious door or perhaps the inside of crystal. The area thus composed only slightly transformed and enriched with furniture becomes a mountain landscape, an interior of a house, the shore of a fjord and finally a huge nave of a church under construction.

BRAND, by Henrik Ibsen - Agnieszka Kowalska, Staś - Photo : Janusz Szymański

In Jarnuszkiewicz's production there are no rich colours neither in the sets and the costumes nor in the props. Black, beige, white, various shades of grey. Other colours when they appear are ashen. However, this palette does not create a sense of sadness or depression. The warmth emanated by the wood and at times the light produce an atmosphere of peace and permanence. These colours also define the temperature of the characters and impose a picture of the world. But the impression is that a flame burns under this tranquil exterior. The colour explodes only once in the play when Gerda carries a red rose frozen in a block of ice across the stage - the flower's glow is almost blinding.

The scenes in Brand, as directed by Jarnuszkiewicz, emerge from absolute darkness and shadows like independent segments. Some last long, some only an instant to fade in the dark again. When Brand is swept away by an avalanche in one of the opening scenes, for an instant we glimpse him leaning with outspread arms against a white wall which encloses the acting area. He looks like someone lying on snow as seen by a bird above but also as someone falling into a bottomless abyss.

BRAND, by Henrik Ibsen - Irena Burawska, Aleksander Bednarz - Photo : Janusz Szymański

Brand is trudging across the hills to his native village situated on the banks of a fjord somewhere at the end of the world. He is a pastor on a mission to spread faith in a strong God, a God who demands "all or nothing". Before Brand descends into the valley, there are short scenes that define the ideological proposals and attitudes of the protagonists. Brand meets Gerda who offers to take him to her church on the mountain peaks, a church of crystal, of ice. Gerda's God is a god of the elements, or passion, in his world there is room for ancient gods and forces. A third world: Brand speaks with Einar and Agnes. They try to freeze the while, for they wish to live in a state of ecstatic happiness in an eternal "here and now". They travel across the mountains, everything seems possible for them. Brand's meeting with Gerda, with Agnes and Einar are sketched in scarcely a few words.

As Brand reaches the village, a storm breaks out. It happened just as a woman, living on the opposite bank of the fjord, was looking for a priest who could offer comfort to her dying husband. Brand decides to take a boat across the rough waters, yet he needs another person to help him. Nobody, not even the unfortunate man's wife dares to do so. Agnes, the woman met in the mountains, begs Einar to join Brand. He refuses because he does not wish to lose his happiness. Agnes then decides to go herself. Jarnuszkiewicz does not use any special stage effects to give the impression of the raging storm, its fury grows out of the dialogue. The actors do not use violent gestures but rely on static tension. Our impression is that everything takes form through words, as in a rhapsody.

Agnes decides to abandon Einar and to remain with Brand. The director conceived this scene as ambiguous and vague. Since the emotions and intentions are not revealed, the three characters remain inscrutable. Brand (Aleksander Bednarz) demands that Agnes should choose one way or another. But is this demand motivated by love or also by ambition and an implied religious conflict? Einar (Dariusz Siatkowski) is confused, bewildered. Convinced earlier that he is destined to be happy, he has become incapable of putting up a fight, incapable of any response: Agnes (Agnieszka Kowalska) is undecided and baffled. She choses Brand but turns to Einar. She pats his hand as if bidding farewell to happiness and asking for forgiveness. It is not clear whether she chose Brand because she loves him or because she is making a sacrifice, for the pastor's uncompromising religious stance attracts her. The impression is of inextricable maze of emotions and intentions. It all seems cleft, splintered, ambivalent...

BRAND, by Henrik Ibsen - Agnieszka Kowalska, Aleksander Bednarz - Photo : Janusz Szymański

At the beginning Aleksander Bednarz as Brand, annoys with his coolness and monotony of means of expression. He is neither an ecstatic nor a fanatic prophet. He seems to be lacking any extraordinary features. Yet, although he is always self-controlled, concentrated, turned inward, his character grows. The initial determination, ruthless drive to fulfill his religious mission, becomes less unequivocal. However, although one may follow his fate, and although in the succeeding scenes he uncovers a broader range of his moods, he does not submit to a "linear" transformation. It's as if the actor attacked each scene from the same lofty point, revealing ever new traits of character only to hide them in darkness later and to start the struggle once again. That indomitable return to the roots of the character's behaviour imparts a tragic streak of constancy.

Agnieszka Kowalska's character is based on a different concept. Agnes submits to ever more advanced metamorphoses that acquire ever more meanings. From an infatuated goose, through the part of a faithful wife, her attention fixed upon her husband, an anxious mother, Agnes is driven to the final and a fanatic sacrifice. Kowalska and Bednarz employ the same acting methods. They do not raise their voices, but suppress their emotions. The audience notices only subdued signals of their true feelings.

BRAND, by Henrik Ibsen - Dariusz Siatkowski, Aleksander Bednarz - Photo : Tymoteusz Lekler

Consequently their gestures and behaviour assume many meanings. That is perhaps a most characteristic aspect of Jarnuszkiewicz's theatre. One gesture may express ecstatic joy and deep suffering, devotion and opposition, love and dread...

Marcin Jarnuszkiewicz does not subscribe to stage effects. A few appropriately arranged pieces of household furnishing can evoke an intimate interior. Metaphoric scenes depicted by visual means are rare, but make a strong impact. It is these scenes that largely create the poetic mood of the production. A screening of predatory and fragmented animated pictures transfers the attention of the audience into a space way up high. We are soaring with the hawk. It is hard to verbalize this metaphor, it contains several connotations. But, as if beyond them, the image of the raptor seen in the abstract landscape imbues our impression of the play with strong emotions.

BRAND, by Henrik Ibsen - Photo : Tymoteusz Lekler

In another scene, Gerda proceeds in a stately measured step carrying a red rose frozen in a block of ice. She carries it with a smile on her face, in her outstretched hands, like a religious icon. This is an unusually beautiful visual metaphor. It defines not only Gerda's character but also indicates a feature of the whole scenic world.

There are more similar symbols. In a conversation with Agnes, Brand holds the piece of ice close to his chest as if wishing to cool his heart or to melt the ice. The son of Agnes and Brand, buried close to the house, appears in a cube of glass as if in a block of ice. Lighting plays a very important part. It either floods the stage gently or delineates it sharply, it either bathes the characters in a soft light or throws them into a sharp relief against the background. When in a circle of light Agnes remembers her son it is blindingly white, penetrating everything. In another scene, one of the most beautiful stage images, the light is warm, gentle as it envelops the figures. Brand and Agnes are lying together on the wooden floor, their heads close to the auditorium. Relaxed as in a marital bed they discuss their concerns. The simple and intimate conversation has a powerful effect.

The metaphors are created very subtly, sometimes imperceptibly. The impression is that the action is in the dialogue. The music (of a wide variety and from different epochs) is ever present in the background. It complements the images and situations, and while concealing itself sets the tempo of action.

The last scene is a reprise of the first one. Brand is spread out on a white surface, as if on an avalanche or as if he had fallen into an abyss.


English translation : Krystyna Cękalska