Photo by Grażyna Wyszomirskaa two-part epic drama by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (the first part was published in 1808, the second in 1832) which belongs to the canon of European literature and presents one of the most significant myths of the modern era. Grotowski presented his own three-part adaptation (based on Józef Paszkowski’s translation) at the Teatr Polski in Poznań (premiere 13 April 1960). This was the final time he worked in the theatre without his own company. The co-creators of the performance were the renowned painter Piotr Potworowski (set design), Ryszard Gardo (musical consultation) and assistant director Zofia Żelewska.

Cast: Władysław Głąbik (Faust), Stanisław Sparażyński (Mephistopheles), Zofia Żelewska (Gretchen), Bronisława Frejtażanka (Marthe), Eugeniusz Kotarski (Homunculus, Citizen I), Jacek Flur (Student; Valentin, Gretchen’s brother; Philemon), Kazimierz Łastawiecki (Wagner, Wanderer), Blanka Orszańska (The Old Woman), Roma Andrzejewska (Townswoman I), Maria Bystrzyńska (Townswoman II), Zbigniew Graczyk (Beggar, Dowdy), Józef Zembrzuski (Citizen II), Aleksandra Królikowska (Witch), Regina Redlińska (Hag, Erichto, Baucida), Danuta Wiłowicz (the voice of Guilt), Aleksandra Koncewicz (the voice of Lack), Janina Ratajska (the voice of Poverty), Anna Korczak (the voice of Concern).

The script, created by Grotowski as dramaturge, was based primarily on the first part of Faust, although it included the concluding scenes from the second part. He worked closely with Potworowski who created modern, constructivist stage designs, with the combination of their talents generating an unusually original interpretation of a classical work. Potworowski and Grotowski enclosed the story of Faust within a steel construction resembling a somewhat Meyerholdian ‘machine for acting’. The particular locations of the action were indicated briefly using boards with the appropriate signs, while also carefully ensuring there was a spatial rhythm to the actors’ actions and that particular protagonists were grouped together.

Faust’s story was filled with references to the contemporary period, particularly themes of existentialism and Freudianism. The main theme of the performance, though, was Faust’s isolation and insatiability. His metaphysical hunger seems to be satisfied only by his final vision of Dionysus, who appears before the dying hero instead of his saviour Gretchen. The vision evokes the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche while also serving as an expression of a view of the world as a dynamic fusion of contradictions, a standpoint which Grotowski was close to at the time, since he had also presented it in Cain.