22 December 2023
The absence of norms has become your norm.
And so I can only rebel against you, that is, against your abolition of all norms.
Sławomir Mrożek, Tango
At the very core of Tango – the most important play by the Polish absurdist playwright Sławomir Mrożek – lies the radically decayed world, a modern society, only one step away from its final downfall. All ideals, all ideas, all principles, even the entire tradition and social order have been lost. What remains is chaos – chaos that is supposed to be a subversive and liberating departure from ossification and rigidity but is increasingly becoming a creator of ossification and rigidity that is oppressive and suffocating. But in the world of Tango, no one gives a damn: Mrożek’s characters are gleefully dancing towards the end of civilisation, which does not frighten anyone; it thrills them and calls for a celebration of triumph over any conventions. Or it seems so. Until a young world-fixer, a young champion of old traditions appears, willing to stop at nothing to get the world back on the rails.
Tango is an absurd and grotesque comedy emerging precisely from the clash of generations and their attempts to dismantle the world as on a chessboard and put it back together. Both sides are convinced they are in the right, their procedures unfold with almost clockwork precision. Mrożek radicalises this battlefield further on by looking at the wheel of the world through the micro-lens of a family. At one side of the family table, we hear loud maxims of total freedom and the abandonment of all rules and conventions, and from the other one, the appeals for order, meaning and endless bureaucratic forms, prerequisites, and norms. But one thing is clear: none of it can save the world but will only push it – time and time again – even further off its course. It is becoming increasingly clear that the radicalism of order, regulations and sense is no less dangerous than the radicalism of chaos, freedom, and nonsense.
Tango, with its comical machine mechanism, turns into a detailed vivisection of relationships in a time of anxiety. Despite the constant tinkering with conventions and genres they will ignore any barriers and can therefore be extremely brutal. The end of the world is here, and there is no sign of any victory or redemption on the horizon. What we are left with is tango, urging us to keep moving so that the world does not run away from us.