Ivona, Princess of Burgundia

This dated Polish play receives a Belgian update

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Ivona, Princess of Bergundia
Published 19 Aug 2017

Polish playwright Witold Gombrowicz's 1938 play is a sprawling, ungainly creature. The story about a bored, rebellious prince who decides to marry a mute, possibly disabled, woman he encounters while out for a walk is definitely absurd, and has all the marks of a satire. But it's never clear what this contemporary adaptation is satirising, and the tragic ending of this highly stylised, English translation struggles with pace and clarity.

The cast of seven play all of the characters in the royal court, but there are no costume changes and minimal physical distinctions between individual actors' characters. This often leads to confusion about who's who in any given scene.

Ivona, the civilian-turned-princess, never speaks. The sinewy male actor that plays her endows her with penguin-like walk, and as the story progresses she has lengthy sequences of abstract movement sequences inspired by contemporary dance. As chaos spreads through the palace, other characters take on her movements. This adds necessary visual variation to this in-the-round staging with no set or props, but it's an otherwise unjustified choice.

The company try to keep up a good pace, but the script has lengthy stretches that are, frankly, incredibly dull. The disruption that Ivona causes is low-key. She is more of a mosquito than a swarm of locusts. Criticisms of social class structures and royal tradition are mild rather than overtly ridiculous, and there's a pronounced feeling that the politics of the Belgian company performing the play are present but unknown to British audiences.