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English Newsletter Issue 4 / 2010

Newsletter, Issue 4 / 2010 (November)

Hungarian theatre news – Newsletter, Issue 4 / 2010 (November)

– provided by the Hungarian Theatre Critics’ Association in collaboration with ITI Hungary. In this newsletter, you will find short reviews by theatre critics about current performances, as well as information about festivals and other theatrical events. Any further suggestions are welcome. If you wish to submit a different address or unsubscribe, please refer to the bottom of this newsletter.

In this issue:

POSZT 2010 / National Theatre Festival at Pecs, 2010

Theatre and politics – bad news is good news (the present situation of theatres after the elections: the independents, the Opera House, the Theatre Law and the appointment of theatre directors)

Andrei Serban’s Three Sisters at the National

Measure to Measure – Matthias Langhoff in Cluj

Maladype’s Platonov

The Satine Slipper by Sandor Zsoter

POSZT 2010 / National Theatre Festival at Pecs, 2010
In the February issue of our Newsletter a few critics already shared their impressions about the selection of this year’s National Theatre Festival at Pecs (POSZT). In the next passages you can read my personal opinion about the awards given at the end of the festival. Just to remind you: this year it was the music critic Miklos Fay who selected his personal favorites of the last season.
One cannot say that these were the very best productions of the year, as they were not. On the one hand, the list is overtly subjective (Fay said that he chose the plays he would like to watch one more time – I have to add this is not really a professional viewpoint…). On the other hand, Fay’s selection is quite different from that of his predecessors – as we can read in the rather expensive album published on the tenth jubilee of the festival, edited by renowned theatre critic Istvan Nanay – the two third of the selected shows had really been thought to be the best of the year, and only one third of them had marked the selector’s personal taste. By the way, subjectivity: to my mind it is high time to decide what role the POSZT wants to have in the Hungarian theatrical life – whether these shows should mean the cream of the cream or only a renowned expert’s subjective opinion? The 2011 festival will be held in between the two extremities as the program will be chosen by a theatre critic, a psychologist and a photographer.
Reading the award list I also feel a bit confused. All the awards given by the professionals’ jury (among the six members there was a theatre critic, an actress, a dramaturg, a director, a playwright and a set designer) went to only four (!) productions (and if we count here the „special award” for Yorick Studio’s 20/20, it is still only five shows out of fourteen). Six out of the nine awards was given to two productions by Orkeny Theatre (The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui, dir.: Sandor Zsoter and Kasimir and Karoline, dir.: Laszlo Bagossy). It affirms my opinion that today the Orkeny (together with the National Theatre that was not invited to Pecs this year) is definitely the strongest and bravest workshop among the traditional theatres of our capital. So that is why the result is not surprising: the Orkeny and it’s artistic leader, Pal Macsai has some important and usually exciting thoughts about theatre making and about the audience as well – that is something one cannot observe in most of the Hungarian theatres.
And this cannot be said about the Hairdresser (dir.: Viktor Ryzhakov) either, the production that got the award for the „best production” in Pecs. The play is an amusing one, but far from being too sophisticated. There is some great acting in it, but that’s all – it has nothing to do with our world and sad realities. The international jury (German critic Mr. Thomas Irmer, Russian critic and co-manager of the Moscow festival Net, Mrs. Marina Davidova and the literary manager of London’s Royal Court Theatre, Mr. Chris Campbell) has given their award to Viktor Bodo’s The Dice Man. This was not a surprise: Bodo is working seriously on his international career – just think of his stagings in Cologne and Graz, where he is really cool nowadays.
To sum up the experiences I earned at this year’s POSZT: after a weak theatrical season we finally got an especially weak selection. And from these shows the jury chose really the best available possibilities. – Tamas Jaszay

Theatre and politics – bad news is good news
In the last few months one could hear worried voices both from inside and outside the country about what is going on in Hungary after the elections in spring 2010, when, as it was predictable, the conservative party Fidesz, moreover, the extreme right, the party of Jobbik became represented in the parliament.
Independent theatres were the first to be alarmed. Hungarian independent groups, artist and theatre venues can apply every year for a support for their operation. (The total amount of money for independent theatres is approx. 5 million Euros yearly; there is a board of professionals which prepares the decision, then the minister takes the final decision. The writer of the present lines is one of the board members.)

Not only artists belong to the category of “Independent”, but basically the whole dance scene, and big venues like Merlin or Mu Theater as well. The internationally renowned companies of Bela Pinter od Viktor Bodo are included in structural field as well. Until the end of summer it was still unknown whether their yearly subsidy for operation for the year 2010 would be paid or not. It was the media which first started to question the newly reformed ministry of culture if they are planning to pay this money or not. The ministry was silent, and the theatres had to open the new season without knowing anything of their financial circumstances.
As a result, some groups decided to stop working as companies, for the simple reason that they could not afford to pay actors or dancers any more. Dramatic interviews were published on the issue, and the situation forced the artist to form a league, to start to talk to each other and organize themselves. The independent field covers approx. 2000 creators/artists, and based on some calculations it has 800.000 viewers yearly.
The whole budget of the independents is approx. 3.5 % of the Hungarian repertory scene, so we are talking about a relatively little amount of money. It looked as if the new government wanted to save money exclusively on this little section of Hungarian theatre, that is, the independents. At least it is quite striking that the bigger and incomparably richer part of the scene was left intact. One also has the impression that the new cultural leaders do not care what is going to happen with the independents.

Finally, the ministry announced that there is going to be a national program of saving money, so the cultural ministry will have to take part in it as well. The subsidy for independents will be the first to be cut. Or temporarily blocked. So the verdict came: 66% of the subsidy for independent theatres will be paid – probably by the end of October, while the rest is blocked till the end of the year. If the remaining 34% will ever be paid or not, is yet to be seen. Thus, in the end, the blocking of the money became a relatively good news, since at least 2/3rd of it will be paid.

To sum up, the independents were the first to have money cut down, which can be understood as a message: the present conservative cultural government does not consider independent artists a high priority. Euphemistically speaking.
However, the i
ndependent seems to operates as normal, but one can clearly see that there is a puzzled situation: what is going to happen in the future? How can one make any future plans under such conditions?
The discussion goes far beyond the problems of independents: it was the first year when the so called Theatre Law was implemented. This is a law which guarantees a regular subsidy (on a competition basis) for independent theatre, a minimum of 10% of the yearly budget of the whole. However, some important and influential theatre makers doubt if there is a need for such a high subsidy and if there is a high quality scene at all. (We have to add that the independent scene is the only and exclusively the one which operates on a competition basis, so it has a quality oriented feed-back. The rest of the money goes away without any quality control).
And now r
umors say that this recently accepted Theatre Law, which indeed has major problems to be revised, is going to be rewritten. But instead of a large consultation with professional organizations, it seems that there is only one organization, the recently formed theatre association, that is empowered to prepare the new law. This organization is declaratively an association based on “political sympathies”, rather than professional aspects. There are fears that the legal guarantee of the 10% for independents will be the first to be abolished. And that the illusory or quasi consultation (with only one organization) from the side of ministry leads to a law serving current political purposes. Some drafts and vague ideas of the law that were published in the magazine of the organization are quite alarming – according to that Hungarian theatre culture should serve “Hungarian” and “Christian” values.
The Hungarian Opera House of Budapest undergoes a complicated “leadership-story” with lots of political connotations. The soap opera of the Opera House started with denouncing the contract of its artistic director, Balazs Kovalik, a major progressive and innovative theatre director, probably the only Hungarian opera director of international interest and fame. At the present moment the Opera House has no director, only a temporary leader appointed by the minister. One can expect for the ministry that has a vision of what such a big national institution should represent, and how much money the country wants to spend on making it into one of the leading opera houses of Europe. However, the ministry seems to lack that vision.
The political appointments of theatre directors also goes on in the country, yet only in the provinces. Local governments, now, after the local elections (all of them being right wing conservative ones), name theatre directors “of their own type”. At the same time, the process looks absolutely legal, and these political appointments does not make those major administrative mistakes they did earlier. The process looks as follows: there is an open competition for the chair of the directors. A professional committee (which is already generally but not necessarily formed of people with “political sympathy”) makes a proposal for the local government. Then the politicians make the decision. But politicians might ignore the opinion of the professionals, as it happened in the case of Tatabanya theatre, a fine theatre house in the provinces with good professional results in the last 10 years. They appointed somebody whose application was considered by the professional committee of no interest. The “consultation” with professionals is legally and formally done, but politicians will name whoever they want. – Andrea Tompa


Two opposing opinions about Chekov’s Three Sisters, directed by Andrei Serban
You can never tell what Three sisters by Chekhov means to you until you have put it on stage – there has been a massive row of re-redirections of the play lately in Hungarian theatres and they are always compared with the archetype, i.e. the legendary version created by Tamas Ascher and the Katona Jozsef Theatre, Budapest in 1985.
Andrei Serban, the Romanian stage director living in the US is very good at Chekhov. Two years ago his Uncle Vanya in the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj (Romania) was fascinating and now in the National Theatre of Budapest he shows his renowned art to tell most of his and the play’s thoughts by the space, movements, layers, distances, narrowing-widening optics, motions, rhythm, lights and shadows, big canvases and sounds. Illusions and lies: this is what needs re-determinations in these days, and the way Serban does it seems to be a complete avoidance of the tragic-cathartic way of telling the story of the never-happening-journey to Moscow.
Two leading critics are on opposing views, Tamas Koltai is saying that it is now the most progressive approach ever, that humour, the absence of self-pity, emphatic pieces of music and the choreography compose the structure, which can be seen at its best in creating a structure of passive voice. By dramaturgical help, the classical translation of Dezso Kosztolanyi is slightly transformed into this grammatical use of verbs, while still insisting on the original text. The production is the brilliance of a director, whose literal and theatrical mother-tongue is that of Ionesco’s. Another marked view of Judit Csaki sees it as „too much”. There is an abundance of ideas, for example the fact that communication is dominated by body-language rather than verbal means, that Vershinin is operetta-like and the space is opening for him, that Kulygin is homoerotic, while Olga is entertaining, Robert Menczel’s scenery, the amount of stylized actions, good and worse punch lines, etc. All these end up in being too much to decipher, while the three sisters fade out in Act IV and the excellent actors obediently do what they are ordered to: to follow instructions – Katalin Budai

 

Measure to Measure by Matthias Langhoff in Cluj
After he participated in 2008 with two performances at the Festival of the Union of the Theatres of Europe (which took place in Cluj/Kolozsvar, organised by the Hungarian State Theatre of Cluj/Kolozsvar), Matthias Langhoff has returned this year to work with the company of the Hungarian Theatre.
One of the most impressive European stage director of today was invited to mount Shakespeare’s play,
Measure to Measure. Actually it was his choice, like he said in an interview. As a Brecht’s devotee (“my master is Brecht, and I am faithful to his education” as he admitted in the same interview), Matthias Langhoff successfully built he Brechtian techniques in his performance, which is speaking about power, autocracy, manipulation, perfidy and hypocrisy. The four-hour performance is “seasoned” with improvisation and songs, and the typical Brechtian songs are substituted here with Shakespearean sonnets (composer: Vasile Sirli). Langhoff’s performance is – in a certain way – a kind of political theatre: some of the characters are accentuating the actual political situation in Romania, specially in improvisation parts. – Kata Kollo

 

Chekhov: Platonov – Maladype Theatre
Director and company leader Zoltan Balazs has had a unique journey in the last decade. His company called Maladype Theatre will celebrate its 10th birthday in May 2011. Zoltan Balazs first called the attention of the audience and the critics as well with his ritualistic shows (Genet: Les negres, Holderlin: Empedocles, etc). Then in 2008 there was a sharp shift in his works when he and his rejuvenated company had the premier of Leonce and Lena. The show is still on their repertoire – there were around the 70 (!) performances that is a record in an independent group’s life – and it clearly showed his new route: the playful, witty and humorous series of variations has been posing questions about the nature of theatre instead of trying to show a new interpretation of Buchner’s text. Those who followed the works of Maladype can see the phases of building a new company and educating a new audience.
The new show, Chekhov’s Platonov had a premier during this year’s Budapest Autumn Festival and I am sure it will be an important station in the company’s life. The director Zoltan Balazs and dramaturg Judit Goczan has shortened the long text of Chekhov; however, the show still lasts for about three and a half hours, challenging actors and spectators as well. Chekhov named twenty characters, here all the roles are played by nine actors and actresses: in the very economical version all the personal relations get simpler and more straightforward, too. The whole set is a billiard table: around and on it we can watch the games with the human shaped billiard balls (one must notice the abundance of physical contacts that are usually violent). The central position of Platonov cannot be destroyed: four women and four men stand against him (and rarely next to him). ’What are your plans?’ – we can hear the question frequently, which one can interpret within the frames of the game or as a sentence concerning the desperate lives of the characters. The play in Zoltan Balazs’s interpretation is about the fate, the coincidence, the plans and of course the cruelty of all games. The 25-year old (!) Akos Orosz plays the leading role: his Platonov is full of energy mocking his partners with clown jokes and that is why his loneliness grows enormous at the unhappy ending – Tamas Jaszay

Sandor Zsoter’s The Satine Slipper
Sandor Zsoter has staged The Satine Slipper by Paul Claudel in the Gardonyi Geza Theatre of Eger for the first time in Hungary. Claudel’s drama would last 12 hours if the full text was performed, and the wide variety of sceneries including three continents, the huge number of characters and the complicated plot also demands a heroic vocation from theatre makers.
The version in Eger only lasts 4 hours due to the fresh and witty translation by the dramaturg, Julia Ungar. The perfromance is dominated by the wonderful stage design of Maria Ambrus: a blue container and a beautiful curtain made up of thousands of rosaries. The container is a world within the world and if the characters are inside of it, the window gives the frame of icons depicting saints. The rosary-curtain has innumerable functions: it secludes Prouhèze from Rodrigue yet letting her to observe and interpret the world and faith from between its strands. The curtain is also a wild bush, a bed, a blanket and the sky, etc.
The actors are also doing a great job, especially Sara Meszaros and Gergo Kaszas in the role of Prouhèze and Rodrigue. Meszaros has the light of divine innocence on her face with a very refined, small hint of coquetry. Kaszas is a jumpy character getting calmer, older and wiser as his faith gradually grows out from his love for Prouhèze.
The performance abounds in moments when we are able to forget everything except for that given moment, especially when the poetry of Claudel, the captivating sight of the curtain with hundreds of different colours and the splendid acting unites. However, as for the plot, the fragmented performance ignores the fact that the human audience tries to seek meaning and motivation of actions, or merely the identity of characters on stage. – Andrea Radai

The newsletter does not represent the opinion of the Hungarian Theatre Critics’ Association, but of the individual critics.

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