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Gustaw Holoubek Dramatyczny Theatre

alias Teatr Domu Wojska Polskiego (Theatre of Polish Army House, 1955-1957), Teatr Dramatyczny m.st. Warszawy (Drama Theatre of Warsaw, 1957-2008)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)22.7.1955 | inauguration of the stage
premiere of Wesele
(detail)1957 | theatre has changed the name from house of Polish Soldier Theatre into Dramatic Theatre

(detail)2002 | Ist edition of "Meetings" Festival of Theatre Festivals


(detail)Witold Filler |other
Writer, journalist, specializing in theater criticism and the history of Polish theater, especially cabaret and circus.More theatres

(detail)Tadeusz Łomnicki |director, theatre director
Actor, director, creator of Teatr na Woli.More theatres

(detail)Lidia Zamkow |director
Director and actress. Her directorial debut was "Omyłka" by Bolesław Prus in TUR Theatre.More theatres

(detail)Krzysztof Warlikowski |director
Director. Warlikowski studied history, Romance languages and philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and then on Theatre Directing Department in Kraków.More theatres

(detail)Małgorzata Szczęśniak |scenographer
From the beginning of her professional career has worked as stage designer for all dramas and operas staged by Krzysztof Warlikowski in Poland and abroad.More theatres


Since 1954, this theatre (which was called the Theatre of the Polish Army House until 1957) has been located in the Palace of Culture and Science in Plac Defilad in Warsaw. The Palace of Culture and Science, the “gift of the Soviet nation to the Polish nation” situated in the very centre of the capital, a 230 metre-high sign of the post-Yalta dependence of Poland, brutally dominates the city. The work of Soviet architect Lew Rudniew, built over three years and officially opened in 1955, is the top creation of social realistic architecture, which redefines historicism in a particular way, in connection with so called national styles. Designed as a communist “factory” of art and science, it was to become the headquarters of three theatres, among other cultural institutions. The Dramatyczny and the Studio Theatre are located opposite each other, in two identical, four-storey projections, flanking the main entrance, each decorated with a monumental six-column portico with a pseudo-renaissance attic. The Lalka Theatre is situated behind the Studio Theatre.

            The Dramatyczny Theatre, located in the left projection, preserved its bombastic social realistic interior decorations; their style was a pastiche of 19th century theatres. The interior has a box set, a traditional horseshoe-shaped house and two balconies (on the first balcony there is a special “Stalin box“, with a parlour leading in from a special entrance). It holds 650 spectators and is maintained in a traditional colour scheme: white walls, red upholstery and a red curtain. The house, the foyer and the halls are decorated in rich marble with pseudo-classical motifs, bronzes covered with gold, stucco, crystal and porcelain chandeliers, as well as noble plastering. The theatre has three stages: the magnificent main stage (21.80 metres-wide, 16.95 metres-deep and 16.85 metres-high) with a revolving stage (14 metres in diameter) and an orchestra pit, as well as two smaller stages. One of these smaller stages is located in the Exhibition Room, with marble columns and a modest amphitheatre auditorium with wooden benches for 122 spectators. The other one, called the Rehearsal Room, has seats for 168 spectators. In May 2008, the theatre was named after its legendary director between 1972 and 1982, Gustaw Holoubek.

The interior of the Dramatyczny Theatre, like the whole of the Palace of Culture and Science, is the most representative work of social realism, and was entered into the monuments register in 2007, since that time enjoying the strict protection of the cultural heritage inspector.

Marta Leśniakowska



After WW II the state authorities decided to move the centre of the capital city of Warsaw from the Saxon Axis[1]. Instead the Palace of Culture and Science modelled after the Moscow State University was built in the torn down quarter of ruins of the former Jewish district. As one of theoreticians of socialist realism in architecture wrote, the utilisation of historical squares would entail loosing “the sense of momentum, scale and grandeur of the new era”[2]. For many years the palace has been a symbol of Soviet domination over Poland.[3] The writer Tadeusz Konwicki in A Minor Apocalypse gave the testimony of fear evoked by this building. As he wrote: “that enormous, spired building has inspired fear, hatred, and magical horror. A monument to arrogance, a statute to slavery, a stone layer cake of abomination”[4].

            The palace was meant to dominate the panorama of Warsaw. In the resolution passed by the presidium of the government on 2 July 1956, it was stated that  „the role of the centre of Warsaw formed on both banks of the river with the upper centre of the whole city – the Central Square and the Palace of Culture and Science – as a link to all present and future districts surrounding the city centre shall be further emphasised”[5]. The aim was fulfilled. Even before the opening of the palace a journalist from Express Wieczorny, a popular evening paper, wrote that „its soaring silhouette, that from now on shall be inseparably and forever associated with the image of Warsaw, visible from the distance of dozens kilometres, looms over the city”[6].

Even before the finishing of works the decision was made that the Palace of Culture and Science, besides the Polish Academy of Sciences, Congress Hall, Museum of Technology and Youth Palace, would hold three theatres: Teatr Lalka (The Lalka Theatre), known by this name up to this day, Teatr Młodej Warszawy (The Theatre of Young Warsaw) (from 1972 operating as the Studio Theatre), and the Teatr Domu Wojska Polskiego (Theatre of the House of the Polish Army), renamed the Dramatic Theatre in 1957. Obviously such a layout was far from accidental – a cultural conglomerate aimed at producing the new man, delineated the path of his formation, and theatre played a significant role here. The Dramatic Theatre was meant to be a culmination of the cultural formation of viewers,  who – at first as children and later as youngsters – used to visit the theatres located in the opposite wing of the palace. The Dramatic Theatre, occupying the whole of the south-east wing, was intended for the ideologically formed audience.

            The history of this theatre is closely connected with the history of the Palace of Culture. Just few days after Joseph Stalin’s death the palace was named after him. “The Gift of the Soviet Nation for the Polish Nation” was a flagship of socialist realism in architecture. The place was surrounded by 550 statues of workers and  social realist allegories of the arts, produced at large scale in a ceramic factory in Estonia. Just in front the main entrance there are statues of Adam Mickiewicz and Mikołaj Kopernik by Stanisław Horno-Popławski. The message is clear: art, to which the place is a temple, is meant to serve working men.

No sooner had the works finished than the problems started. First with the dedication. After the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Khrushchev’s report the inscription bearing Stalin’s name was covered discretely and in the 1960s an effort was made to cover the mass of the building.[7] In no time the building-statue became an arena of political shows aimed at introducing changes after Stalin’s death. In October 1956 Władysław Gomułka’s address under the Palace of Culture and Science started a period of thaw. Just one year after this, the Dramatic Theatre, as the first theatre in the capital, introduced the contemporary Western dramaturgy: it staged The Chairs by Eugène Ionesco, and in the following season The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, departing from the socialist stylistics on which the theatre was founded. This was especially visible in the period when the theatre was managed by Gustaw Holoubek (1972-1983), the theatre being named after him, when the Dramatic Theatre was the most important stage discussing the present day, apart from the Old Theatre in Cracow. Lev Rudnev, the main architect of the Palace of Culture and Science, wrote in 1955, „The main task was to formulate properly the ideological content of the Palace of Culture and Science … The new socialist content of the building should be related organically with the national form. This is what realism is all about. One does not erect buildings in the vacuum but in a specific environment”[8]. Consequently, the architects visited Cracow, Kazimierz, Sandomierz, Płock, Chełm and Toruń in the search for the Polish national form, in the context of which the new ideological context could be presented. The main source of inspiration was the Polish renaissance; the attics crowning the building were modelled on those of Cracow’s Cloth Hall. According to some, ‘it is a combination of ... the old and the new, the local and the cosmopolitan, the foreign and the familiar’.[9]

The interior of the Dramatic Theatre is a perfect exemplification of this claim. Rich in whites and reds, with a classical semi-circular auditorium and a traditional apron stage, it recalls classic 19th century theatre. The marble-clad spacious foyers, with ceramic, hand-painted chandeliers, are a typical example of Socialist Realism monumentalism. Stalin’s box, with a small sitting room and a separate entrance, placed on the dress circle over the proscenium, clearly refers to the 18th century design of a panoptical auditorium, making it possible for the audience to see the person of the ruler.

There are more such analogies. One might go as far as to say that the Palace of Culture and Science was a peculiar 20th century embodiment of the architectonic idea of castle theatres: fine buildings being a manifestation of power. Theatrical chambers in Polish aristocratic country houses were examples of another theatrum: Polish aristocratic total theatre, which as Dariusz Kosiński put it, ‘apart from the public stage, used to encompass the domestic space as well. This domestic space was dramatised and ordered in accordance with accepted rules in the form of an aristocratic country house, a symbolic anchor of tradition and familiarity’.[10] The Palace of Culture holding the Dramatic Theatre would turn out to be – paradoxically – a realisation of baroque palace architecture, dramatised in the same way, where every element is meant to shape the new man.

Antoni Grzyb

[1] A baroque urban concept by Dresden architects: Matthäus Pöppelmann, J. Naumann, Z. Longuelune, D.J. Juch, J.Z. Deybel. The axis runs from the Krakowskie Przedmieście to the square Za Żelazną Bramą, through the Saxon Garden, and its length amounts to 1,650 m. It runs along the line linking two significant places associated with the Polish history – St. Jerome Church in the former village of Wola (former election field) and the village of Kamion (where the first free royal election was held in 1573). The central point of this concept was the Saxon Palace with its garden as well as Plac Żelaznej Bramy and the Mirowskie barracks.

[2] See Edmund Goldzamt, Architektura zespołów śródmiejskich i problem dziedzictwa (Architecture of the Downtown Complex and the Problem of Heritage),Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1956, p. 474.

[3] The palace was compared to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – built at the beginning of 20th century at the Saxon Square – a symbol of Russian domination for the inhabitants of Warsaw. See Waldemar Baranowski, ‘Między opresją a obojętnością. Architektura w polsko-rosyjskich relacjach w XX wieku’ (‘Between oppression and insesibility: Architecture in the Polish-Russian relationships in the 20th century’), [in:] Warszawa – Moskwa / Moskva – Varšava 1900-2000 (Warsaw – Moscow 1900-2000), edited by Maria Poprzęcka, Lidia Jowlewa, Warszawa: „Zachęta” Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, 2004.

[4] Tadeusz Konwicki, A Minor Apocalypse, translated by Richard Lourie, afterword by Robert L. McLaughlin, Normal IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999, p. 4.

[5] Józef Sigalin, Warszawa 1944-1980: z archiwum architekta (Warsaw 1944-1980: From Architect’s Archives), Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1986, vol. 3, p. 241.

[6] Express Wieczorny (Evening Express) of  21.01.1954.

[7] Karina Koziej, ‘Pięćdziesiąt lat oswajania Pałacu Kultury’ (‘Fifty Years of Taming the Palace of Culture’),  Kultura i Społeczeństwo (Culture and Society) 2005, no 1.

[8] Lev Rudnev, ‘Pałac Kultury i Nauki’ (‘The Palace of Culture and Science’), Przegląd Kulturalny (Cultural Review) 1955, no 38, p. 3.

[9] Zbigniew Benedyktowicz, ‘Widmo środka świata. Przyczynek do antropologii współczesności’ (‘Phantom of the center of the world: Contribution to the anthropology of the present day’), [in:] Mitologie popularne: szkice z antropologii współczesności (Popular Mythologies: Present Day Anthropology Sketches), edited by Dariusz Czaja, Kraków: Universitas, 1994.

[10] Dariusz Kosiński, Teatra polskie. Historie (The Polish Theatrums: Histories),Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego, 2010, p. 216.



  1. Beyond Everydayness. Theatre Architecture in Central Europe, editor: Igor Kovacevic, Nationa Theatre in Prague, Prague 2010.
  2. Król-Kaczorowska B., Teatry Warszawy, PIW, Warszawa 1986.
  3. Teatr Dramatyczny m.st. Warszawy 1957-1987, Teatr Dramatyczny, Warszawa.
  4. Teatr Dramatyczny m.st. Warszawy dawniej Teatr Domu Wojska Polskiego 1955-1958, Teatr Dramamtyczny, Warszawa 1959.
  5. Teatr Dramatyczny w Warszawie, PWN, Warszawa 1972.



Authors: Marta Leśniakowska, Antoni Grzyb

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