(Chris Wiegand’s interview appeared in the Guardian, 1/14.)
They never met but the brilliant Polish theatre-maker and theorist had a huge influence on Kathryn Hunter. On the 20th anniversary of his death, she celebrates his radical methods
When I left Rada, some of the other actors went straight into West End plays but I couldn’t have been happier that I worked with an extraordinary lady called Chattie Salaman. Chattie ran the theatre company Common Stock. She knew Jerzy Grotowski’s work thoroughly and trained us in his vocal and physical exercises, which were really demanding on the body. It meant forgetting this notion that the actor stands upright and delivers lines. It was more about exercises like finding the shapes and sounds of different animals, in order to bring out a more ancient part of ourselves.
We performed mainly in community centres and small-scale theatres. The thing I remember very strongly is the idea that a performance is more than delivering a set of words – albeit by a very talented playwright – but that there is a sense of ritual to it. Sometimes we performed in really grubby places but it didn’t matter – the preparation remained the same. Once you began and committed to a piece of work, you did so totally. I’ve carried that with me always.
Grotowski believed that theatre can be a vehicle to access another level of perception of the world. For him, the “poorer” the style of theatre the better because it falls back on the actors and what they have to bring, rather than sets or costumes or designs. It’s going back to the original instrument, which is the actor.
Photo: Alexander Street