Apocalypsis cum figuris

Poster for "Apocalypsis cum Figuris", 1968; author: Waldemar Krygiera performance by the Laboratory Theatre directed by Jerzy Grotowski, which was his final theatrical work. Script and director: Jerzy Grotowski; co-director: Ryszard Cieślak; assistant: Stanisław Scierski. Costumes: Waldemar Krygier. Actors: Antoni Jahołkowski (Simon Peter), Ryszard Cieślak (Ciemny, the Simpleton), Zygmunt Molik (Judas), Zbigniew Cynkutis (Lazarus), Elizabeth Albahaca/Rena Mirecka (Mary Magdalene), Stanisław Scierski (John). The first closed performance took place on 19 July 1968, while the official public premiere was on 11 February 1969. The process of work on the performance was very long and complex. To simplify somewhat, we can say that the work had three fundamental stages: the first stage was connected to the script which Grotowski created on the basis of a montage of Juliusz Słowacki’s Samuel Zborowski, an epic dramatic poem which exists only as incomplete manuscript versions with multiple variations. Grotowski and his actors began work on the performance in December 1965 using the method of studies and improvisations. After several months of rehearsals (interrupted by further tours) it emerged that the only parts that were convincing were those elements of the script not involving Samuel Zborowski. In Summer 1966 Grotowski found a connection between a character resembling the priest from The Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov mentioned by Antoni Jahołkowski during work on the piece. Grotowski then persuaded the actor to engage in a risky provocation which relied on exploiting the tensions and misunderstandings, connected to the hierarchy of values, developing within the group. Together they arranged a gathering during which Jahołkowski was to indicate whom he considered the best actor. During this improvisation Jahołkowski unexpectedly signalled that it was Zbigniew Cynkutis before then attacking Ryszard Cieślak, half-mockingly referring to him as if he were Christ. From this first sequence a second emerged which took the tone of a blasphemous procession. As a result of this experience, the group rejected Samuel Zborowski and set to work on Ewangelie (The Gospels). The outcome of this were two different montages of the work, show during open rehearsals (the first of which took place on 20 March 1967). Grotowski, though, was not satisfied with the effect and decided to start afresh. According to Adela Karsznia’s research, the first rehearsal noted in the group’s diary as part of work on Apocalypsis took place on 7 April 1968. The third and final phase of work on the performance therefore proceeded against a backdrop of turmoil in the world and in Poland, which, of course, could not but influence the final form of the piece. The rehearsals and improvisations produced a great deal of material which, according to Grotowski, would take a full 24 hours to perform. Indeed, it was shown, only once, during a day-long ‘internal premiere’, which was followed by a period of montage and compression of which the first closed premieres were part. The official premiere did not take place until 11 February 1969. Comprehending the essence of the meaning of Apocalypsis cum Figuris is very difficult. To a certain extent this fact is connected to the attempted blasphemous yet devoted play on the Christian tradition and the Gospels, described by Konstanty Puzyna in a text bearing the symptomatic title ‘Powrót Chrystusa’ (The Return of Christ). However, the force of this work does not lie in some sort of staging of the Gospels; rather, it is to be found in the attempt to pit the work against itself with the Gospels participating in this conflict. During ten years of performances, the work became an increasingly luminal piece, signalling the beginning of a new phase of trials and experiments (paratheatre). Gradually, theatrical signifiers were abandoned: instead of white costumes which were an evident contrast to the name and clothing of Ciemny (the Polish word meaning not only ‘ignorant, dumb and illiterate’ but also ‘dark, obscure, vague and shady’) the actors donned everyday, multicoloured clothing. In the Theatre space, the black plaster was removed to reveal bare bricks, thus removing another element interpreted as significant (‘a black Mass’). The opening of the performance underwent significant change – instead of lying in silence in the performance space while the audience entered, the actors came in after the audience, individually, looking around and greeting acquaintances. Likewise, the audience space was transformed: instead of benches and places on the floor, only a circle of spectators surrounding the performance space remained (for a certain time two different versions were presented alternately: with benches for older spectators and no benches for audience members below 25 years of age). All this, together with the removal of parts of the text referring directly to the Gospels, underscored the understanding of the performance not as a repetition but as something altogether current (Ireneusz Guszpit has described this evolution in detail, see: ‘Apocalypsis… bez Chrystusa’ (Apocalypsis… without Christ) in Sceny z mojego teatru, Wrocław 2003, pp. 83–95). The sense of the reality of what was taking place before the eyes of the audience was strengthened by the performance’s construction in which there was no place to hide or withdraw. Although in Grotowski’s final theatre piece there was an evident aspect of transgression and relation to the Gospels and Christ, its essence was rather the materiality and energy of the theatre, its eventfulness and directness. Of course, this stage event, out of necessity, had to include both sides – so, not only the actors but also the audience. In the face of the evident and undisguised defencelessness of the actors and the radical nature of their actions, many of the witnesses began to explore questions and doubts regarding themselves. There emerged a need for being able to respond to the actors’ deeds through deeds of their own. Among the various reactions there were some which could be considered quasi-sacral: consuming the breadcrumbs that were scattered on the ground, laying down in the places where Ciemny had just been. There were apparently also situations in which audience members joined in with the actors’ actions. In the 1970s, during the paratheatre period, those spectators who remained after the performance met members of the group and were invited to collaborate. Spectating became doing. In this way, then, Grotowski’s final theatrical work can be considered the site of a watershed, initiating a transition from witnesses’ presence to living with presence. This watershed within the performance is analogous to that which was taking place at the same time in Grotowski’s life (‘exit from the theatre’). Over time, the performance departed ever further from the director’s experiments and became increasingly the group’s common property, with them presenting it without Grotowski present during national and foreign tours. This was the case during the Pół wieku po Reducie (Half a century on from Reduta) project, which involved presenting Apocalypsis cum Figuris in selected towns and cities all over Poland (see below). During these presentations it was clear that the performance was slowly dying. The presentations finally came to an end only following the fatal illness of Antoni Jahołkowski. The final performance took place in Wrocław on 11 May 1980. Although for the vast majority of witnesses, watching Apocalypsis cum Figuris was a harrowing experience which changed not only their concepts of theatre, but indeed their lives – there was also a not insignificant number of critics and spectators who considered the performance blasphemous and menacing. These were primarily, although not only, people connected to the Catholic Church (including Zbigniew Raszewski and Andrzej Kijowski). The most notorious example of criticism from this milieu was a fragment of a sermon pronounced during celebrations of St. Stanisław on 8 May 1976 at the Skałka sanctuary in Kraków by the primate of the Catholic Church in Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. He considered Apocalypsis cum Figuris one of the works of art that were demoralising the nation and destroying its ethical spine to the same extent as drinking. Among the many descriptions of Apocalypsis, Grotowski held in the highest esteem those by Konstanty Puzyna, who interpreted the piece as type of blasphemous ‘return of Christ’. Noteworthy, too, are Małgorzata Dzieduszycka’s detailed textual reconstruction of the performance and Jennifer Kumiega’s description. We get some idea of the work thanks to numerous photographs, sound recordings and also a film version directed by Ermanno Olmi for Italian television in 1979. Outside the theatre’s home, the performance was presented in London (18–22 September 1969), New York (18–26 November and 10–15 December 1969), Holstebro (26 August – 12 September 1971), Warsaw 22 September – 10 October 1971, Munich (22 August – 4 September 1972), Philadelphia (10–25 September 1973), Paris (12–18 November 1973), Sydney (4 April – 18 May 1974), Venice (as part of the Biennale, 27–29 September, 3–5 October, 9–12 October, 15–17 October, 20–22 October, 25–27 October 1975), Gdańsk (6–18 October 1978), Milan (27, 28, 31 January, 1, 4, 5 February 1979), Pontedera (24–25 and 29–30 June 1979), Rome (4–7 December 1979), and Genoa (18–20, 22 and 23 January 1980). As part of the Pół wieku po Reducie (Half a century after Reduta) project, Apocalypsis was presented in Lublin (16–17 October 1979), Łódź (20–22 October 1979), Rawicz (2 March 1980), Poznań (8–10 March 1980), Toruń (12–14 March 1980) and Tarnobrzeg (21–22 March 1980).


Tadeusz Buski [Tadeusz Burzyński]: „Apocalypsis cum figuris”, „Gazeta Robotnicza” 1968 nr 193, z 15 sierpnia, s. 5. Przedruk [w:] tegoż: Mój Grotowski, wybór i opracowanie Janusz Degler i Grzegorz Ziółkowski, posłowie Janusz Degler, Wrocław 2006, s. 24–26.

Małgorzata Dzieduszycka: Apocalypsis cum figuris. Opis spektaklu, Kraków 1974.

Jerzy Grotowski: On the Genesis of „Apocalypsis”, na podstawie wystąpienia z roku 1969 przygotował do druku Leszek Kolankiewicz, przekład Kris Salata, “TDR. The Drama Review, Journal of Performance Studies”, summer 2008, 52:2, t. 128, pp 41–51.

Ireneusz Guszpit: „Apocalypsis”… bez Chrystusa, [w:] tegoż: Sceny z mojego teatru, Wrocław 2003, s. 83–95.

Ludwik Flaszen: „Apocalypsis cum figuris”. Kilka uwag wstępnych, [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 94–97.

Teresa Krzemień, Po „Apocalypsis cum figuris”, „Słowo Powszechne” 1970 nr 60, z 12 marca, s. 4.

Jennifer Kumiega, The Theatre of Grotowski, London and New York 1985.

Konstanty Puzyna: Powrót Chrystusa i Załącznik do „Apocalypsis”, [w:] tegoż: Burzliwa pogoda. Felietony teatralne, Warszawa 1971, s. 47-59 i 96-100; przedruk w: Jerzy Grotowski, Teksty. Wybór, wydanie 3 poprawione i uzupełnione, wybór i redakcja Janusz Degler i Zbigniew Osiński, Wrocław 1999, s. 167–181.

Tadeusz Różewicz: „Apocalypsis cum figuris” (W Laboratorium Jerzego Grotowskiego), [w:] tegoż: Przygotowanie do wieczoru autorskiego, Warszawa 1971, s. 151–153; przedruk w: Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia…, s. 205–207.

Rafał Wojaczek: Apocalypsis cum figuris, „Odra” 1970 nr 10, s. 26. Przedruk [w:] tegoż: List do nieznanego poety, wybrał i wstępem opatrzył Stanisław Stabro, Kraków 1985, s. 122; oraz jako *** [w:] tegoż: Wiersze, opracował Bogusław Kierc, Wrocław 1997, s. 42.