Slovak National Theatre – Drama, Bratislava, SLOVAKIA
Leo Tolstoy – Alfred Neumann – Ervin Piscator – Guntram Prüfer – Marián Amsler
War and Peace
directed by: Marián Amsler
This is certainly no heavy–footed classic! Director Marián Amsler and the brilliant actors’ collective of the Slovak National Theatre’s Drama company have taken L. N. Tolstoy’s novel, one of the seminal works of world literature, and forged it into a contemporary piece for today’s spectators.
This is certainly no heavy–footed classic! Director Marián Amsler and the brilliant actors’ collective of the Slovak National Theatre’s Drama company (M. Šalacha, M. Ondrík, J. Koleník, P. Vajdová, I. Timková, D. Jamrich and others) have taken L. N. Tolstoy’s novel, one of the seminal works of world literature, and forged it into a contemporary piece for today’s spectators. It is dynamic and replete with contrasts – epic scenes of battle interchange with intimate and muted images. The audience enjoys a spectacle blending live theatrical action and live cinema. The creators of this grand stage epopee combine the cutting-edge resources of theatre and film to unusual and hypnotic effect. As if anew and rapt, we discover the fates of the Russian aristocracy during Napoleon’s campaign, carried away by the story, fates and relationships of Pierre Bezukhov, Andrei Bolkonsky, and Natasha Rostova… Until we finally sense that the human being and his/her feelings and desires are eternal – in war and in peace.
This production was co-selected by the Audience Programme Board of the BeSpectACTive! Project.
Director Marián Amsler did not keep with fashionable custom in reaching for a new but unproved dramatization of Tolstoy’s emblematic masterwork War and Peace. To the contrary, he rehearsed an older transcription by Erwin Piscator, Alfred Neumann and Guntram Prüfer from the 1940s, which respects the basic narrative arc and social conflicts in the novel while tapping into the intellectual and political substance of its epochal prose but without recourse to rigid, illustrative and untheatrical historicizing. All in all, the script concentrates on the novel’s fundamentally pacifist message, and from the rich maze of characters exclusively on the storylines of Pierre Bezukhov, Natasha Rostova, Andrei Bolkonsky, and the political environment surrounding historical figures – Napoleon Bonaparte and tsar Alexander I. Still, Amsler did not piously defer to the dramatization as the final text but also entered it as an author. He cherrypicked the original version for scenes most important for both the story and message and subsumed them to his original directorial conception. He equally expanded the space of the Narrator, who is no longer merely a navigator in the historically and relationally complex story, but placed vast philosophical passages from the original novel in his lines. The character thereby assumes the function of an omnipotent mover and factual commentator – even a print of Tolstoy’s portrait on the Narrator’s t-shirt clearly suggests he is a fill-in for the author. The Narrator represents a kind of Fate, a human being of today’s world leading us into early 19th century Russia made into communicative channel between an old story and its modern recipient in the audience.
Marián Amsler interprets War and Peace as an epic about the life of man against the backdrop of history, and as a litmus strip between sharp contraries that can cause major historical upheavals. Antithesis serves as the basic expressive device in his directorial conception and in all other of the production’s theatrical components. Among others, the piece synthesizes two contrasting but ultimately interconnected media in its resulting form: theatrical elements and film technique. The production naturally hovers on the boundary of an intimate human story and a feature war documentary.
War and Peace is an example of how a classic piece can be interpreted with the means available to contemporary European theatre most reminiscent of the style of so-called new realism and live cinema, popular especially in German-speaking regions.
adapted by: Alfred Neumann, Ervin Piscator, Guntram Prüfer
translated by: Roman Olekšák
adapted and directed by: Marián Amsler
dramaturgy: Darina Abrahámová
set design: Juraj Kuchárek
costume design: Marija Havran
music: Ivan Acher
choreographical cooperation: Stanislava Vlčeková
video: Marek Moučka
cast: Martin Šalacha, Milan Ondrík, Ján Koleník, Richard Stanke, Anežka Petrová, Petra Vajdová, Jana Kovalčiková, Ingrid Timková, Richard Autner, Ladislav Bédi, Ondrej Kovaľ, Adam Jančina, Dávid Uzsák, Dušan Jamrich, Erik Žibek, Dana Droppová, Kristína Spáčová, Simona Kollárová, Sára Polyáková, Jakub Švec, Annamária Janeková, Sandra Ľasoková, Alexandra Lukáčová, Timea Rošková, Romana Ondrejkovičová, Dušan Ambróš, Jakub Janotík, László István Béhr, Dániel Szebellai
presentation at Divadelná Nitra supported by Creative Europe programme of the European Union, Slovak Arts Council, Nitra Self-Governing Region, The City of Nitra, SPP Foundation, LITA — authors society
Marián Amsler (1979) graduated in dramaturgy from the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. His student productions of Chekhov’s Platonov and Ivanov already received awards at theatre festivals in Warsaw, Prague and Brno, and both earned him the Dosky Award for Discovery of the Season. Upon completing his studies, he collaborated with numerous Slovak and Czech theatres. In 2005 he co-founded the international Theatre Letí in Prague. From 2008 he was in-house director at HaDivadlo in Brno and worked as its artistic director from 2010 to 2014. In 2015 – 2018 he was director and artistic director at Theatre ASTORKA Korzo ’90 in Bratislava. Amsler also lectures at the Directing and Dramaturgy Department of the Theatre Faculty in Bratislava. As a prominent figure on the Slovak theatre scene, his directorial works have been featured several times at ITF Divadelná Nitra: 2002 – Tanya, Tanya (VŠMU), 2003 – Platonov (VŠMU), 2012 – Pagans (Slovak National Theatre), 2018 – People, Places and Things (Andrej Bagar Theatre in Nitra), 2020 – The House (Andrej Bagar Theatre in Nitra). He curated the Slovak programme section of ITF Divadelná Nitra 2012.
‘The creators maintained a distance from relationships and individual narrative episodes. This almost compels the question if they are not showing us a miniature model of the world by whose means we can search for answers to questions of logic and history, ethics and philosophy, war and peace, freedom and responsibility, love and everydayness, etc., posed by the Narrator. We face a grand theatrical fresco in the form of a succession of visually appealing mise-en-scènes that whisper something beyond what is directly said and shown.’ (Elena Knopová, kød – konkrétne o divadle, 7/2018)
‘A near-invisible cameraman with a handheld camera moves nimbly across Juraj Kuchárek’s elaborate stage setting (in keeping with the novel’s contrasting title, the muddy battlefield drenches the war–stained salon). We see shaky images appear on different projection surfaces. At one time, they depict the spectacular tumult of battle, at other times subtle emotional nuance. Amsler thereby has not one but several stages at his command. […] Notwithstanding the visual conception’s clear roots, video has no nobler function than to enrich traditional forms of theatrical storytelling. To dynamize, accelerate, offer spectators a different experience. Amsler has a keen sense for measure and so also ingratiates himself with those who loudly claim theatre is about encountering live actors, just as much as fans of the epic modern series format. Scenes of battle choreographed by Stanka Vlčeková carry much visual appeal. A humble crowd of actors create the illusion of a chaotic tangle of confused skirmish in the misty woods. Abrupt cuts to worn–out faces, followed by battle – one on one. The men falling to their death would have Oscar potential in Hollywood.’ (Miloslav Juráni, .týždeň, 27/2018)