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“Our class” gets crueler at Helsingborg City Theatre
Published on Tuesday, September 22, 07.00
The 2013 Swedish premiere of Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s play “Our class” at Galeasen Theatre in Stockholm was a roaring success, and in the end even politicians flocked to see it. The play was also successful in the rest of the world. It is loosely based on true events that took place in 1941 in a small Polish village Jedwabne, when most of the local Jewish inhabitants were burned to death in a barn by their own neighbours. A new production, in Jarema Bielawski’s translation, has now premiered at Helsingborg City Theatre, directed by Anja Suša, whose productions at Backa Theatre in Gothenburg had already received much attention. Maria Edström was at the premiere.
One cannot avoid making comparisons with Galeasen Theatre’s acclaimed production of “Our class”, and what strikes me immediately is the emphasis on the individual versus group. Natalie Ringler’s verson focused on the individuality of every character, the actors came so close to the audience that their faces became palpable – and we looked each other right in the eye.
Here at the Helsingborg City Theater, Anja Suša has made the group into the main character, staying true to the words uttered by Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s in an interview printed in the program booklet: “we did this to ourselves”.
In this production we are taken to a school or a museum. High cabinets with glass doors, in which a seven-branched candlestick, a bloody shirt, a horse head are on display – Helga Bumsch’s stage design is commenting and beautiful. We are supposed to learn something in the present or from the past, we are alive or dead, children or old people, all at the same time.
Out of this Polish school class with Jewish and Catholic children Suša creates a kind of “stage body” consisting of the whole ensemble – in movement, fights, love, disappointment, violence – all of which escalates in the killings and the unimaginable horror, when hundreds of people are locked in a barn and set on fire by their neighbours. Even the time itself is the same – Jakub Kac (played by Tobias Borvin), who was already murdered in 1941, is the whole time left standing on the stage, as well as Kajsa Ericson’s Dora who was burned to death. The living and the dead are both present throughout the play.
And everything is expressed in such a physical manner, so loudly and, how should I put it – non-sentimentally. The course of events is simultaneously messy and random and repulsively practical, since everything remains on the stage: ghosts, shadows, voices, pangs of conscience. Maybe Serbian Anja Suša, with Europe as her working field, has a certain resistance to all of the story’s chest tones and idealizations. Be that as it may, here at the Helsingborg City Theatre the play erupts intensively out of the story’s stigma.
Is “Our class” better here at the Helsingborg City Theatre than it was at Galeasen Theatre? It is different, played in a completely different key, crueler and more disillusioned – and maybe in some sense more truthful.
Maria Edström

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