Above left: Sylvia Dritsakis, Justine Keim and Kathy Urukalo. Above right: The cast of Princess Ivona. Images by Patrick Riviere.


Princess Ivona, by Witold Gombrowicz

Eastside Arts Centre, Paddington, Sydney | Every Saturday night until 9 October (except 25 September)

Princess Ivona, at Paddington’s Eastside Arts Café, is a rewarding, intimate theatre experience. Here you can enjoy an evening of theatre accompanied by a glass of wine — or two — and antipasti.

The Arts Café’s aim is to promote the development of Sydney theatre and their choice of Princess Ivona, by Witold Gombrowicz, is to be applauded.

Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) was a Polish satirist, and this is his semi-didactic, absurdist play which uses the fairytale genre to expose the plight of the individual who refuses, for whatever reason, to conform to the norm.

Ivona, when we first encounter her, is hardly the conventional Princess. Firstly, she is grotesquely ugly.  Secondly, she is mentally ill, or severely autistic or just chronically lethargic and indifferent.

Prince Phillip of Burgundia is both challenged and spellbound by her in either a perverse or philanthropic fashion. He finds her mysterious and a welcome diversion to his indolent existence. And as any fairytale Prince would do, he proposes marriage.

The King and Queen of Burgundia are appalled when they meet their son’s fiancée, but to evade a regal disgrace, they attempt to embrace her as a new member of the royal family.

Ivona, for reasons that are ambiguous, ignores the values and precepts of the court. Childlike and insensitive to royal protocol, she incites anger and fuels the fears of the family.

Ivona as a character is quite unique. She is almost silent throughout the entire play and yet unconsciously she shows us how treacherous, yet liberating, being totally sincere can be.

Justine Keim plays the weird and wonderful Ivona. A  grotesque, comedic mask  is worn during the early stages of the play and Keim relies on physical movements to breathe life into this piteous character.

The play appears to have been pruned to a manageable and comfortable length, and dimensions of this character may have been lost in editing.

Eventually, Ivona’s voiceless existence exposes each aristocrat’s own imperfections and dark secrets, and, as they become obsessed with exterminating her, they become more physically grotesque, whilst Ivona  becomes more beautiful. This is cleverly displayed with the gradual employment of comedic style masks.

Kim Dicksons’ Prince Phillip is suitably convincing as the gauche, stilted and quite unstable heir to the throne. Think a young Prince Charles and you are there — did I really write that!

King Ignatius, played by Brett Heath, warms up in Act Two as his criminal activities are revealed via his interactions with the superbly played Lord Chamberlain (David Bond). These interludes provide the best humour, as Bond villainously, but diplomatically, canvasses all the possible ways Ivona can be silenced further.

Brooke Doherty also gives a splendid performance as Queen Margaret. She looms larger than life as she staggers from being warmly royal to wicked, wicked witch.

The church hall is sadly very small and the decision to stage the entire production, front of curtain, curtailed movement and made entrances and exits quite amateurish.

The minimalist set design was compensated by simple, powerful lighting and pantomime style costuming which worked stylistically well with the grotesque masks.

Ivona does turn the royal court upside down and had the direction leant towards a more ‘Looking Glass’ style and feel , the  humour and absurdity would have been strengthened. But it is still a great deal of fun!