Icelandic theatre has a long and distinguished reputation in its native tongue but, to date, is all but inaccessible for non-Icelandic speakers. The recently established Reykjavík Ensemble International Theatre Company is bringing about change to the status quo with a troupe of artists from a wide variety of countries, backgrounds, languages and disciplines, forming the first international theatre company in Iceland. The ensemble will soon make its theatrical debut with its first play, ‘Polishing Iceland.’
The vision of ‘Polishing Iceland’ begins
Conceived in late 2019, Reykjavík Ensemble was born from a cosmic meeting between artistic director Pálína Jónsdóttir and writer Ewa Marcinek. “Ewa was recommended to me by people I had reached out to because I had an idea for a project with Polish artists in Reykjavík,” explains Pálína. “I shared with her my vision of establishing an international theatre company in Reykjavík, because it was obvious to me coming back to Iceland after many years of living in New York that the society had changed a lot. I was feeling massive social changes here in terms of becoming a multicultural community. I was shocked when I discovered that that was not translating into participation in the theatrical scene. I thought that I should do something about that.”
With a background in literature, Ewa knew that this dream could be made into reality. “I am a writer and I had experience of that being possible within the writing scene like with Ós Pressan,” says Ewa. “So when Pálína said ‘I would like to do it in the theatre,’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I know international artists and writers here.’”
An emotional story
In addition to co-founding the company, Ewa is the writer of ‘Polishing Iceland,’ which was first developed with the play’s dramaturg, angela rawlings. “It’s based on a text I started writing in a creative writing workshop she was doing for women immigrants in early 2015,” says Ewa. “She dragged this text from me in a way. It’s an autobiographical story and I felt those emotions there boiling and she knew how to make me brave enough to write them. It’s a very personal story about a breakup in Poland—it’s divorce in the piece—and then sexual abuse and then the protagonist comes to Iceland and she’s struggling with that.”
The story is conveyed through a dream-like translingual physical theatre production, amplifying the emotions in the text through movement and finding the comedy and the dynamics in the difficult, dramatic text. “Straight theatre is very text-based and with a structure that lends itself to that,” says Pálína. “Physical theatre allows space for the gestures to be very present and for there to be no hierarchy between physicality and text — finding interesting ways of spelling the words with your vocal cords or your physicality.”
For Ewa, seeing her work go from page to stage has been emotional. “I was joking that the auditions were like multiple orgasms for me because it was so funny and touching,” she says. “I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry at times. Once I just lost it. There is a lot of personal drama but so much comedy in it, so it’s a beautiful contrast.”
‘Polishing Iceland’ will play on March 11th, 15th, and 25th at 20:30 at Tjarnarbíó. Tickets to ‘Polishing Iceland’ are 3,900 ISK and can be bought here.
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