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New adaptation of ‘Polish national poem’ to be performed live at St John’s

"Pan Tadeusz is up there with the Iliad and Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s plays"

An innovative, bilingual performance of one of the great poems of European Romanticism will be hosted at St John’s in February.

Thaddeus: Love and Dalliance in Time of War is an adaptation of the 10,000-line epic poem Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz, which is often referred to as the ‘Polish national poem’.

Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic conflicts that reshaped Europe in the early nineteenth century, the original poem tells the story of two feuding noble families living in a Russian-occupied region in the borderlands of present-day Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. The central drama is a love story, between Tadeuz and Zosia, who come from opposing sides in the feud – much like the ill-fated lovers in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Cavalrymen taking leave in Lithuania, attrib. A. Orłowski
Cavalrymen taking leave in Lithuania, attrib. A. Orłowski

For this new, semi-staged production, an abridged version of the poem will be performed live in Polish, with English subtitles projected on screens above the actors. Live music by Chopin and images from contemporary artworks will also feature, to help evoke the atmosphere of the original Romantic poem.

The production is the work of Pat Boyde, Emeritus Professor of Italian, who over the past 15 years has transformed numerous works of classical and European literature into semi-staged performances so that they can be heard and enjoyed by those with no experience of the texts’ original languages.

He said: “Polish is one of the languages I studied 60 years ago, so taking on Pan Tadeusz was kind of a challenge. At first I thought I’d just look at the poem and see what I made of it, but as soon as I got started, my love of the Polish language, which I’d neglected for six decades, came back. Once I’d started work I thought, Yes – I want to show everyone in the outside world that Pan Tadeusz is up there with the Iliad and Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s plays.”

Pat Boyde
Professor Pat Boyde, director of 'Thaddeus: Love and Dalliance in Time of War'

To condense the 10,000-line poem into a 75-minute performance, Pat focused on the romance element of the plot, which enabled him to bring out the humour and strong feeling expressed in the original poem.

He explained: “What I’ve done is to concentrate on the love story between Tadeusz and Zosia. The background story of the family feud, and the presence of Napoleon getting ready for his invasion of Russia, are kept in view, but they’re not dramatized. So the audience will follow Tadeusz and Zosia –  their flirtations, attachments, breakings up – from the unbeatable opening (a classic scene of boy meeting girl) through to the betrothal.”

Thaddeus: Love and Dalliance in Time of War will be performed in the Old Divinity School (Main Lecture Theatre) at St John’s College, on Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 February at 7.30pm.

Following both performances, audience members will have the opportunity to view a small exhibition of new paintings inspired by the play. 

Admission is free, but seats can be reserved in advance (recommended) via Eventbrite.

Published: 12/2/2020

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