The Unreality Of It All

Nastazja Domaradzka, Assistant Director of The Chairs reflects on her experience working on the production.

I don't actually remember my first time in a theatre. I think I was five and my grandad took me to see some puppetry. I also have vivid memories of a comedy duo visiting my kindergarten. I don't remember the gags, but somewhere, in one of the family photo albums, there is a picture of Little Me, surrounded by other little people. I am sitting on the carpet, holding my favourite teddy - a puppet rabbit - my face beaming with laughter as I look at the two performers, completely mesmerised, lost in the unreality of it all.

Decades later, I am thousands of miles away from that kindergarten in southwest Poland. I’m in London. It's Week 3 of The Chairs rehearsals at the Almeida, and my stomach muscles hurt from laughing. Toby and Marcello get carried away and take one of the gags as far as they can, Kathryn needs little encouragement to respond in kind; it's hilarious and ridiculous at the same time. Behind me, Jackie, our lightning designer, bursts with laughter, I look at Omar, our director, he's gone too. In this world of play everything is possible.

Again I get lost in the unreality of it all.

One day, during lunch break, I eavesdrop on Toby and Marcello reminiscing about one of their Complicité productions together. I've read essays and books about this production. I try to play it cool, But as I said to Marcello the first time we met, it's all quite surreal. Unreal.

I know better than to let my impostor syndrome win, so I continue getting lost in it all.

Every morning as I walk down Upper Street I think about theatricality. It makes sense that after a year of focusing all of my projects around theatre-making, I have ended up working with Omar Elerian, a director whose work I first saw seven years ago and have followed ever since. When friends ask me what it’s like working with someone you admire, I have a simple reply: we are quite similar really, we both love to get lost in the unreality of it all.

The Chairs Production Almeida Theatre Helen Murray120

The unreality of theatre is where it's at for me. For a long time I've been frustrated with the predictability of British theatre. Naturalism doesn't suit me. Ironically I'm fed up with what I call 'tables and chairs theatre'. Theatre is not Netflix. Surely we wouldn't have missed it so much when it was taken away from us in 2020, if it was just like telly?

Theatre, the magic, the craft, the suspension of disbelief, the decisive 'yes' in staring at our own flaws and shortcomings in the mirror of humanity: it doesn't happen anywhere else. It happens in these dark rooms we occupy collectively hoping to find truth and meaning onto which we can cling. As Ionesco, Beckett, Complicité, Grotowski, and now Elerian have shown us, theatre is not about providing answers. The most beautiful and cathartic experience theatre offers us is an opportunity to get lost in the unreality of life.

I listen, listen and see
Recognise faces known to me
They don't exist - I think and dream
In the soul of theatre I see!

Polish multidisciplinary theatre artist Stanisław Wyspiański describes so well in one of his poems, that act of seeing in the theatre.

Despite knowing The Chairs inside out now, I watch each preview with a knot in my stomach. In the evenings, I go home. I give my boyfriend the full overview of the night, I tell him about something new Toby did during the show and we roar with laughter.

Completely lost in the unreality of it all.

Mesmerised.

Originally from Poland, Nastazja is a feminist theatre maker and director. She has worked both in the UK and abroad, Nastazja's work is rooted in eastern European practice through using theatre as the tool of resistance and amplifying underrepresented voices. She holds an MA in Applied Theatre from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and teaches at various drama schools in the UK.

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