T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. as part of the 2010 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. Photo: Arthur Rawicz

T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. as part of the 2010 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. Photo: Arthur Rawicz

The formula is this: a bourgeois family go about their hollow lives, measuring out time in brushstrokes, ledger calculations, eyeliner, church bells. They don't talk very much. A messenger – Angiolino – arrives, and with him a telegram heralding the arrival of someone. The guest arrives. He looks a little like a certain ancient Judean. His presence exerts strange influences on the family members. He has sexual intercourse with each of them – father, mother, daughter, son and the maid (although not at the same time). Everyone is happy, for a time; they talk more. Another telegram arrives. The guest leaves. Everyone falls apart – except the proletariat maid, who is transformed. The angel calls it a wrap.

Of course, the art is not in the simple formula but in how it is worked out - on a page, on film, on stage. And in this, TR Warszawa's T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. does not disappoint. As in the 1968 Pasolini film (and later novel) on which this production is based, it is the way of telling that we are gripped by here: an exactness in the composition of each scene, a preciseness in each action that keeps us still for more than two hours, in this mostly wordless performance. Whether or not this all translates into something of profound meaning is less clear.

Structured within the stylish lines of the late-60s (or maybe it's 2009 IKEA), designer Magdalena Maciejewska has assembled the affluent family home out of wooden panelling, glass partitions and deep-pile carpet, across which beds slide together and apart. Jacqueline Sobiszewski's superb lighting casts long shadows and blocks of brilliant light across the expansive stage, at one time filling the air with yellow light, at another transforming the white carpet into an immaculate green lawn. Smooth transitions between scenes see the audience diverted by a comical yet sinister dancing figure (who we suspect is the messenger) conducting orchestras in the dark.

More than 'inspired by' the film, T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. all but transposes Pasolini's Teorema directly to stage in the first 'half' (there is no interval) – yet it is where it departs from the original work that T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. becomes most interesting, using its own language, one that is more intense, funny, warm. Where symbolic actions lifted from the film can sometimes seem merely representative here – the clenched fist of the catatonic Odetta, the sexual/healing yoga position of Paolo and the guest – when writer and director Grzegorz Jarzyna allows his hand to play more freely, things become exciting. We see it in a seduction played out through wine glasses and cigarette smoke, and in the conversing about God with birds on a telephone wire; it is in quirky moments like the phallic beating of the duvet cover in time to Mancini's 'Baby Elephant Walk', and in the messenger's knowing tug of his wig to remind us that he knows that we know that none of this is real.

Where T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. founders is in the catalyst on which everything depends: the guest himself, played by Sebastian Pawlak, whose presence is only sometimes compelling enough to explain how the family can be so seduced by this figure, neither demon nor divine. This could be intentional - a reflection on the delusion at the core of people's devotion to gods - but I'm not sure. What we do believe here is the intensity of his effect on all of them and the impossibility of existence after he has gone, particularly in the performances of Jan Englert as the father, Paolo, and Danuta Stenka as the mother, Lucia.

The key might be in the maid, Emilia, who is religious but who does not seem to believe the guest is divine: she drops a veil over a religious image in the kitchen before her sexual encounter, suggesting she knows the difference. In an otherwise sterile environment, her transformation leads her to peace in nature; birds twittering on a wire, leaves gusting across the stage. It might also be in Angiolino's epilogue, delivered powerfully by Rafał Mackowiak, as words finally tumble into the space.

There are no miraculous levitations at the end. Instead, we are given a question, ”Do you believe in miracles?”, as we are left to wander in the recurring landscape of the barren desert. This reviewer doesn't believe in miracles, or in gods for that matter, but is open to believing that moments of rapture can be made possible in art. Even if the earth didn't quite move for me, T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. is stylish, intelligent and anything but formulaic. Go see.

  • Review
  • Theatre

T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. by Grzegorz Jarzyna

01-04 October, 2010

Produced by TR Warszawa
In O'Reilly Theatre, Belvedere College

Written and Directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna

Music: Jacek Grudzien and Piotr Dominski

Set Design: Magdalena Maciejewska

Lighting Design: Jacqueline Sobiszewski

With: Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak, Danuta Stenka, Katarzyna Warnke, Jan Dravnel, Jan Englert, Rafał Mackowiak and Sebastian Pawlak.