Under Katyń – An Emotional Journey
Playwright, Director and actor Danny Masewicz. Photo credit Ann Evans.
Under Katyń. Written by Danny Masewicz, The Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 11 – 15 July 2023. A Copernicana and Firstlight Theatre joint production. The play is accompanied by an exhibition, depicting the history of the Katyń massacre.
Review by Ann Evans
Despite the true horror of what lies behind this story – that being the massacre of tens of thousands of Polish troops by the Russians in the Second World War and their bodies buried in huge graves in the Katyń Forest, this play nevertheless incorporates humour between the characters, and love within the two families that we meet.
One family, is Stefan (Danny Masewicz) his wife Sofia (Ania Bhatia) and daughter Julia (Lily Skinner) from Poland, now living near Stratford. The second family Grigory (Mark Spriggs) his actress wife Anna (Pamela Hickson) and son Alyosha are from Russia but thrown together through Julia and Alyosha’s budding romance.
The story revolves around the painting that Stefan is working on – a painting of Katyń Forest with its ghostly images of the Polish servicemen standing amongst the trees. Stefan is obsessed with his painting, much to the annoyance of his wife Sofia. But there’s good reason for his passion for it.
The exhibition depicting the history of the Katyń massacre.
This painting is the pouring out of his heart the grief that Stefan feels for his long-lost brother Witold, who he believes was one of the many Polish servicemen murdered and buried. The not knowing and the desperation to find his older brother or at least to find out what happened to him drives him on – and drives his wife and daughter to distraction – in a loving, caring kind of way!
Things come to a head when Julia brings her new friend Alyosha to meet her parents. However, Alyosha’s parents, Grigory and Anna, who are both very much into ‘theatre’ are in England on a short break from Russia, and the opportunity to visit Shakespeare’s country is something they are keen to do, so they accompany their son when he meets Julia’s Polish parents. And so the two families are thrown together.
The tension and atmosphere are palpable, as you feel the pent-up emotion of Stefan, Sofia and Julia and the focus falls again on the painting of Katyń Forest. But what gradually reveals itself is the secret that Grigory has kept for many years – a secret from 1940 in fact.
The intensity of the mood deepens as the truth is revealed and the final act is darkly dramatic with the outcome unpredictable.
Great acting by all six members of the cast with some powerful and emotional moments that must have touched many in the audience. The standing ovation at the end of the performance was well deserved.
For playwright and Director Danny Maserwicz who, as mentioned also played Stefan, this is a very special production which he has thrown his heart and soul into. Because just as Stefan is searching for his brother in the play, Danny is still searching for his grandfather who also disappeared around the time and place of these Russian war crimes.
The passion tied up in this production was evident by the presence of many Polish people and organisations at the opening night, which also had support from the Polish Cultural Institution, The Institute of National Remembrance and Stratford Town Trust – with the Lord Mayor Councillor Kate Rolfe and her husband, Mike in attendance.
In addition to the brilliant cast, the production crew included Stage Manager Emma Beasley, Lighting and sound Richard Ball, original set design Kate Wiltshire and costumes Jacque – they also thank the volunteers who do so much in keeping everything running smoothly.
Elementary Whatson caught up with Danny Masewicz after the production, who was delighted and humbled by the whole experience. Posing for a photo with the important painting which he described as the seventh character in the play, he said: “It is such an honour – so many Polish people in tonight, it’s a massive honour and I’m immensely proud to tell this story and to try and balance the different hurts and wounds. And importantly, to tell the story with some hope.
“So long as people have relatives still missing, it’s important that they always have hope – hope that one day some piece of information will come to light and they will learn what happened to their relative. I thought hard about the ending of this play but realised that the main thing was that people felt they had hope at the end.”
The production is a tribute to those who lost their lives in the Katyń Forest crimes and whose bodies were discovered eighty years ago. The play is accompanied by an exhibition, depicting the history of the Katyń massacre.
The production team have put together a series of podcasts that tell the backstory behind this production. View them here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klbhSrw11BY
For tickets visit https://www.thebearpit.org.uk/ or call the Box Office 01789 333935.