Written by Aglaja Veteranyi, and adapted and performed by Edith Alibec, this play is based on the autobiographical book of the same name. The book loosely reflects on Veteranyi’s own experiences of life on the road with her family, after leaving Romania under a cloud. This nomadic existence was necessary for this circus performing family as they moved from town to town, they were also running away; evading detection by the Romanian authorities for a crime that was committed whilst living in Romania. Alibec was inspired to adapt this play as it resonated with her after visiting refugee camps in Germany, she wanted to highlight the vulnerability of people forced to move from their country and seek refuge in an unfamiliar country.
The play never really gives the narrator a name, but we hear about the lonely existence of this little girl and her sister, moving around so often that they never have the opportunity to make friends with other children. Her schooling is neglected as her mother’s attitude is one of, ‘why would you need to know these things for performing in the circus?’ The family seems to have assumed that she will carry on in the family tradition of circus performing, but she is so concerned about her mother dying during her act, that the thought of performing herself, is too traumatic. Her mother’s act involves her dangling by her hair from a height in the big top, to distract herself from thinking about her mother dicing with death, she thinks about a child being cooked in polenta. It indicates how upsetting this is for her, her escape is not thinking about cute little bunnies or kittens, this child imagines more tragedy.
Her travelling leads to her being fluent in several foreign languages, but she is unable to write in her own native language and this is something that will continue to be a problem until she is in her late teens, as she is illiterate until then. There is the constant dream of them becoming millionaires as her mother and her clown father are dreamers, always looking for the next big thing.
The supposed glamour of circus life is not the reality for this family, they move around so often, the children only know the trailer as their home, and their parents insistence that they will soon be famous does not help their two children who are just trying to find some normality.
Edith Alibec brings this tale to life, with the assistance of Dana Paraschiv directing this piece. Alibec performs alone on the stage and she transitions through the different periods of the girl’s development, changing costume on stage as she goes. Even though some aspects of the play are quite dark, it is sprinkled with comedy which shows off the resilience of the girl. The stark comparison between the life her parents would like to lead and the reality of the family’s existence is beautifully portrayed by Alibec, moving between the haunting world of fear and loneliness, the play gives us an insight into the life of Veteranyi and maybe gives us a clue to her ending her life in 2002. Veteranyi overcame illiteracy to become a writer. Why The Child Is Cooking In The Polenta, was her only novel to be published during her lifetime, although several novels have been published since. Her literary existence was writing prose pieces.
Originally performed in 2017, to sold out audiences in Belgravia and then performed at The Gate Theatre in London in 2019, the Romanian Cultural Institute streamed the play on 14th & 15th November. This delightful play gave us a peek through the window of Veteranyi’s life.