‘This is my nein’
On Thursday, during the general dress rehearsal of The Passenger, I met Sofia Posmysz for the first time. I was chatting with a friend and colleague in the corridor near the door to the stage during the interval, before my scenes, when she came through the door with the head dramaturg and her translator. The dramaturg introduced me as Tadeusz. I stumbled over words and said something rather inane like ‘nice to meet you’ as she said something in polish. Then, in german she simply said ‘my Tadeusz was older’. I’d been thinking about responsibility at having to represent someone, a real person, on stage, but this simple statement by Frau Posmysz hit me with the weight of that responsibility; it was her story, and the story of the real Tadeusz who gave her a silver pendant with the face of Christ.
At that point she saw the word ‘nein’ (no) which was stamped on my colleague’s arm*- a symbolic branding which takes places in the first act. She pointed to it, and then rolled up her sleeve and showed us her number, tattooed in green onto her left forearm. ‘This is my nein’, she said.
My character, Tadeusz, is ordered to play the SS Commander’s favourite walz on a violin, and instead, as an act of protest, he plays the Chaccone by Bach. In our stylised production, instead of miming, the chaconne is played by the entire violin section in the pit, and Tadeusz holds up an empty violin case, invoking imagery of Moses and the ten commandments, while the words ‘the word of the Lord lasts forever’ are displayed in the background, which brings Brahms’ Requiem to mind. It’s a powerful moment, and at the Premiere on Saturday, it was an experience I’ve never had before. As I opened the case with the first few chords, I heard and felt the audience take in a sharp breath. It sent shivers down my spine.
Sofis Posmysz received a standing ovation as she came on at the end. It was the first standing ovation I’ve experienced. She shook my hand and said ‘mein Tadeusz’. Shivers again, and moist eyes.
At the premiere party I had a photo taken, and as she took my arm, she repeated what she had said to me on stage – the biggest compliment I could image – and then, in a moment of pure sweetness, the 90-yr-old lady looked at me and said, ‘but your name isn’t actually Tadeusz, is it?’.
‘No’, I replied, ‘My name is Andrew’. She struggled with it. ‘I’m from Australia’.
Her eyes widened in disbelief, ‘Ach, mein Gott!’.
* My colleague is also Australian, but has family who was killed in the holocaust, so I can imagine that this encounter was even more profound for her.