INTERVIEW: Kneehigh’s Patryja Kujawska

Kneehigh Theatre’s lastet production The Tin Drum recently opened at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre before embarking on a UK Tour, Lisa Worth caught up with actress Patryja Kujawska to find out more about her past and working with the company.

Formed in 1980 by Mike Shepherd, who left the London acting scene to teach in his native Cornwall, Kneehigh began life as a community group. Now, the name is synonymous with inventive story telling through immersive theatre.

I had the delight of meeting with Patrycja Kujawska, who is on tour from her Bristol home.

Her previous Kneehigh credits include Don Jon, The Red Shoes, The Wild Bride and Dead Dog in a Suitcase.

“Patty” has an arresting and robust stage presence, quite opposite to her diminutive frame. She is everything you hope of a Kneehigh practitioner. Earthy, opinionated, warm and generous.

From the age of seven, she studied violin in her hometown of Gdansk, and meandered into acting through the avant garde experimental company, Dada von Bzdulow.

It was whilst performing in Gdansk that Charlotte Vincent (of the Vincent Dance Company), spotted her, and there followed an invitation to perform in the UK in 2005.

In 2008 Kneehigh’s first female director, Emma Rice, happened to be in the audience, and Patty’s joyous journey began.

Her passion for Kneehigh, her natural home, is obvious.

“I absolutely love this company, for what it stands for”, she says.

She explained the unique rehearsal process, hunkering down in their isolated base near Truro, where there is barely a mobile signal.

There, they cook and eat together, keep the wood burner fed and do the daily chores, while all the time the play is incubating. One big, quirky, multi- talented family.

“There’s no space in this company for big egos”, she cautioned, “and it’s a testament to Mike Shepherd, and Emma before him, that they brought together people who are good in this set up”.

The work is “slightly rough, edgy, and loud, because of the Cornish elements, almost a by-product of us living so closely together”, she said.

Tin Drum, impressionistic, and poetic, is also symbolic and awash with political themes. The second act descends into the horror of fascism, not lost on Patty as the mother of a young child.

“I feel much more responsible for the world, for her now”, she said, “I absolutely think all of us artists have some job to do”.

The mood changed, as she talked of the right-wing political impact on Polish theatre, after 25 years of creative freedom, and the palpable change in Brexit Britain.

“I don’t want to participate in this hysteria. I am always hopeful but aware of what’s happening. Populism seems to be a disease in Europe these days”, she added.

Describing Mike Shepherd, who is also Artistic Director, as “an angry man in the most wonderful way”, she said that Kneehigh still want to make entertainment as well. “We enjoy being clowns and the world is not only dark”.

She seemed happy to talk forever, but I reminded her of the time, which prompted a warm farewell embrace.

Before she darted up the stairs, to cross over to her Kneehigh world, she fixed me with her emerald eyes and referenced Oskar, the puppet protagonist of The Tin Drum.

“You know really, he is just one of us”.

And even with that bewildering talent of hers, so is she.

The Tin Drum is currently on a UK tour – for more information Click Here

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