Bite the Dust
Polish satire lost in translation
This article is from 2008.
First there is the show that should have been. Originally staged in the late-70s, Bite the Dust is a satirical sideswipe at the military mindset. It proved so controversial in Poland that playwright Tadeusz Rólewicz withdrew the performance rights. People didn’t like to think of the underground Polish National Army as anything less than noble and patriotic; in this play they were neither.
We’re given an inkling of this in a voiceover that precedes this production by Teatr Provisorium and Kompania Teatr. Here the writer tells us that he hopes Bite the Dust, released from its historical context, will be seen as a humane anti-war drama.
But then there is the show that is. Despite coming with enthusiastic advanced word, the production has been so released from its context that it is hard to make any sense of it at all. Set on some forlorn World War II frontline where Polish troops fend off unseen Germans with only a lumbering wooden cart for protection, it is a series of self-contained scenes between four soldiers. That the actors perform in English should be a blessing, but in practice, their unfamiliarity with the language – and tendency to bark out their lines – strips the play of its subtlety and negates its darkly comic undertow.
It means that after the promising physical business of the opening scenes in which faceless soldiers drag themselves around the stage wielding huge logs strapped to their backs, it is very hard to get a handle on what the play is about. The obsession with bodily functions and thirst for grain alcohol is one thing, but the conversations about dialectical materialism and the military pecking order are hard to fathom. I reached the end of the play feeling no wiser about who these men were and what it was they’d been through, still less about why it was ever considered controversial.
Universal Arts, Freemasons’ Hall, 220 0143, until 25 Aug (not 13), 5pm, £12–£14 (£9–£11).