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Newsletter, Issue 1 / 2012 (March)

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 of current performances, as well as information about festivals and other theatrical events. Any further suggestions are welcome. If you wish to update your address or unsubscribe, please refer to the bottom of the newsletter.

In this issue:

PINTER Bela’s newest show

ASCHER Tamas-Tom Waits-Buchner: Woyzeck

Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s Our Class in Katona

ZSOTER Sandor’s Streetcar

The new Kretakor (Chalk Circle) Giga-Project

The Uj Szinhaz – issue

The Trafo – issue

Kaisers TV-Ungarn by Bela Pinter

A play with national identity

Following Bela Pinter’s artistic path, one can note separate periods of vibrant creativity followed by periods of more exhausted self-repetition. The company’s latest piece, Kaisers TV, Ungarn is part of the former category, and this hilarious national comedy is a highlight of the theatrical season.

The essence of this type of humour can be found in the subtly interwoven allusions to our historical past and present, that is, the way Hungarian historical traditions are interpreted and how these interpretations resonate with recent events.

The plot goes back to the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49, an event which has always been viewed as an embodiment of our glorified past and national identity and the first day of which is a national holiday. The play also stirs up the sacred image of two national heroes: Sandor Petofi, THE Hungarian poet and Lajos Kossuth, the politician, who have streets named after them in almost every single village and town in Hungary. Fortunately, there are not any one-to-one correspondences nor overt allegories. Petofi and Kossuth and the occupation of the television studio (subtly) remind us of significant politicians of the present government and the riots in 2006.

Nothing has changed since 1848: politicians seek compromises, employees of the old system get the sack regardless of their abilities, and banal, personal (love) stories influence the course of history. As a result, the audience laughs with tears in their eyes and at the end of the performance, as we listen to our national anthem, we experience as if for the first time a tune and a text that we have heard a thousand times… (RADAI Andrea)

Woyzeck at Katona József Theatre

Tamas Ascher, the remarkable theatre director who recently produced Uncle Vanya in Sydney, has staged Woyzeck at the Katona Jozsef Theatre as an inspiring mixture of Georg Buchner’s play and Tom Waits’s music: a concept originated by Robert Wilson and premiered at the Betty Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen in 2000. However, Ascher rewrote and completed the adaptation by the extensive use of a specific choreography – the renowned physical theatre director Csaba Horvath helped Ascher to create it using machine-like, twisted movements. The grotesque movements, together with the dramatic text intermitted with English songs, reflect a fragmented, disintegrated consciousness which seems unavoidable in (probably not only) Woyzeck’s world.

The turning away from all spheres of humiliating reality is intensified by the dusty, minimalist environment, full of bare walls and lattice (created by Zsolt Khell) which reflect a state of defenselessness. With the help of this distinctive trio of music, choreography and scenery, Katona Jozsef Theatre’s Woyzeck represents a world that could neither accept, nor abolish humans: a tantalizing, highly stylized, in-between situation of misery.

Concerning the characters, the production focuses on Woyzeck’s relation to the outside, and to its inhabitants, as these relations mostly represent different stages of humiliation for him. However, Ascher develops this idea without psycho-realistic elements; abjection is chiefly told by the body, either by movements or by dramatic songs. The actors did a very good job, especially Tamas Keresztes in the leading role (incidentally, in 2011 he was nominated for best actor by the theatre critics for his role as the Emcee in Cabaret.) The dissonance of the inner and outer world is present both literally and figuratively. (DERES Kornelia)

Tadeusz Slobodzianek: Our Class directed by directed by Gabor Mate

It is a shocking encounter with past. More theatrically speaking: it is a revealing report about an Eastern Eurpoean society from the 1930s up to the turn of the millennium.

We are in Poland, Warsaw is mentioned, and the names of Polish villages and towns. Still, after a while we have a feeling that these names are less important in this story and that we could just as easily be in the Ukraine, as in any of the Baltic countries, or even in Hungary. We get into the midst of the life of a class in primary school: a group of children in a closed, experimental area that of course perfectly portrays the society and the moral values of the outside world. Here it is, a well-known literary trope (The Lord of the Flies, Spring Awakening, etc.etc.) Of course as we know mutatis mutandis: the relations in this group can be valid for many parts of the world, what’s more, we can also choose the age where we judge the truth of the question. Tadeusz Slobodzianek builds up his dramaturgy according to a vision of an eternal class reunion. Mate Gabor’s direction emphasizes that with a blackboard which stays on stage as the years pass by. We have the date written in white chalk on the black board but, as the years go by, we have the same actors playing the same parts throughout time: first as boys and girls, and then as women and men affected by tragedies, betrayals and sins. It is a beautiful idea that the actors do not age: BODNAR Erika, PALOS Hanna, PELSOCZY Reka, BAN Janos, DENES Viktor (e.h.), HAUMANN Peter, RAJKAI Zoltan, SZACSVAY Laszlo, TAKATSY Peter és UJLAKI Denes are revealed to us as they really are, their youth and their age, and this is the centre out of which they rearticulate their position in their smaller and larger communities: in the classroom, or outside in life. The portrayal of a closed community creates almost a laboratory-circumstances for examining possible conflicts and behaviours. These are mostly banal scenes of everyday life which have nothing to do with the so called „system“: love, hatred, friendship, fun, sorrow, jealousy, betrayal, heroism, self-sacrifice. My daughter, who is in her twenties, asked with shock after the performance whether people have always been so terrible or if they only became such monsters in the twentieth century. I didn’t know the answer then, and I still don’t know the answer for sure, yet having seen the wolf like cruelty that man is capable of in Slobodzianek’s play I am sure of what his answer would be: yes, in the last century man’s morality sunk to a level never seen in previous centuries. It was during that period that nightmare circumstances turned the human beings into monsters. As we approach WW2, the usual conflicts between classmates turn rougher and student tricks, teenager love and petty crimes become ruder conflicts than they used to be. The more and more openly Anti-Semitic Polish society is penetrated by blind hatred and crazy discrimination. The Christian and Jewish societies which used to live next to each other fracture in two. At first we see a fight with the Jewish boy which ends up in a pogrom, one thing leads to another and his ex-lover, a Jewish girl is raped and finally the whole Jewish community is exterminated. We follow the lives of the classmates since the soviet invasion through the terror of the fascist German army until the cruelties of the communist dictatorship, and even up until today.

Slobodzianek is able to do what only very few writers can: he can remain an outsider in his own story, he is able to show us unimaginable cruelties in rigid coldness. Sine ira et studio, not blaming or judging anyone. Here we don’t have the good and evil, no victims and sinners: the historical situations bridge the distinctions between categories; this is how someone can be a hero at one point in his life (e.g. Wladek, when he saves his love, Rachelka, or Zocha, who hides Menachem during the pogrom) and become a murderer at another (the same Wladek when he watches, without intervening, as the arsonists burn the church down, allowing all the Jews of the city to burn to death before he buries all the burnt bodies.) A number of high quality performances prove in the Katona Jozsef Theatre that a truly remarkable production was born from MATE Gabor’s direction. Because the production of the Kamra can effectively articulate valid and new information about the brutalities of the XXth century: it teaches a lesson about hatred against the Jews and its consequences, about the Holocaust, the war and the communist dictatorship. (KARSAI Gyorgy)

Sandor Zsoter’s Streetcar in Radnoti Theatre

Tennessee Williams used to be performed in Hungary in an outdated fashion, now here is the change. Streetcar is performed on the Broadway of Budapest (a street in the inner city, full of theatres, called Nagymezo street) in various different places mostly featuring stars in the role of Blanche, yet usually in productions that aren’t worth seeing. We also have a star in the case of ZSOTER Sandor’s newest piece. But KOVATS Adel (Blanche) is not simply a star, she brings a new interpretation to the part which innovates the role of Blanche instead of simply giving a showcase performance of an actress at the height of her beauty. We can see a Blanche who is not ill or weak, she is only different, and not understood by others. We see everything from her perspective, her tragedy is put into focus.

That is why the time and place of the drama is blurred. Zsoter has created a space which shows absolutely no realism. It blurs the distinction between in and out: we see the home of Stella and Kowalski from in-and outside at the same time.

It is worth it to mention that Zsoter studied to be a dramaturge, so his works always build heavily on the text via close reading. With his costume designer he has created a new, living translation of the text, where the literature teacher Blanche teaches Hungarian instead of the original English. Also they’ve ‘mistranslated’ several lines giving a tone of irony to the text, taking away all the sentimentalism and emphasizing the drama of Blanche. For instance ‘honey’ does not mean ‘my dear’ in Hungarian, only the sweet food, still Blanche and Stella keep on addressing each other this way. As if they just said: ‘Oh my dear jam!” The director said he wasn’t actually aware of Streetcar being so funny. Yet when Blanche is broken we are certainly moved. (HERCZOG Noémi)

Kretakor (Chalk Circle) / Crisis trilogy in Trafo House of Contemporary Arts 

In the last week of October 2011 the Kretakor arrived to the final station of its months-long, global project called ’Crisis’: in the Trafo House of Contemporary Arts in Budapest, the premiere of the trilogy’s last part (’The Priestess’) took place and with it Kretakor showed the movie shot in Prague in June 2011 (’’) and the contemporary opera that first had its premiere in Munich’s Bayerisches Staatsoper in July 2011 (’Ungrateful Beasts’). The Kretakor showed the whole trilogy two times (it lasts for more than five hours) and the separate parts on three additional nights – according to Kretakor’s webpage 1826 spectators were curious about what happened to the Kretakor during the last year. In one word I would say that the ’Crisis’ is about a/the family: the three episodes tell us the story of the boy, the father and the mother and speak about their attempts to escape.

It is difficult to name the genre of what we saw: it is more of a happening or installation than a so called theatre show. With the help of this unique project young and gifted people made it clear that we all are in a crisis now – they communicated it with the help of many mediums: with a photo exhibition, a movie, a two week long creative community game, a contemporary opera and finally a theatre show that resembles the spectators a drama pedagogic training (and of course with the bilingual booklet published for this occasion, collecting personal opinions of people taking part in any episodes of the project).

In a nutshell about the three parts of ’Crisis’. The first one is called ’’ (script by Arpad Schilling and Peter Fancsikai, director: Peter Fancsikai) and was prepared with the help of the Prague Quadriennale 2011. In the former printing house for the Czechoslovakian communist newspaper, Rude Pravo, twelve volunteers from all around the world came together in June 2011 for 2 weeks. Their task was to create a working community following the guidelines given by Kretakor’s creative team and with the presence of professionals shooting a film about them. During the last days of the experiment spectators were also invited to this very special place and they had the chance to start conversations about the volunteers’ experiences.

The Prague ‘happening’ was coordinated (really or virtually? No one knows) by an 18-year old boy, Balazs Gat and in the second part of ’Crisis’ we meet his father, Gyula Gat, the renowned psychiatrist. The composer of the opera ’Ungrateful Beasts’, Marcell Dargay elaborated on a common taboo with the help of the alienating effects of the opera genre. The story is about mental and physical violence against children and we see dead children on stage singing and their murderer too, who speaks about his brutal deeds without any emotions, in a very minimalist way. The children who took part in the spectacle (directed by Marton Gulyas) had special training with drama teachers during rehearsals: the children’s strong presence and unique confidence is an amazing testament to the teacher’s work.

And this is closely connected to the last part of the trilogy: ’The Priestess’ was prepared in little villages of Transylvania and finally had its premiere in Budapest. In this episode the renowned actress, Lilla Gat (who is played by Lilla Sarosdi, Arpad Schilling’s wife who not long ago was a renowned actress for Kretakor Theatre…) decides to leave behind everything: she moves to a small village somewhere in the countryside with her son, Balazs. Here Lilla starts drama pedagogical training for local children who are extremely grateful for this new opportunity. The new teacher has many conflicts with a severe P.E. teacher and the priest of the local community as well – according to them Lilla’s methods are just too liberal for these kids. ’The Priestess’ is actually a drama pedagogical training: all the children and a few adults take part in different situations and have to find answers for their own questions – at one point they even ask our, the spectators’, opinion too.

The huge project celebrates the aesthetic turn of the Kretakor and speaks about the relationship between individual and community, about taking responsibility, about the possibility of revolution and about the fact that we have to make decisions about our own lives. The message of ’Crisis’ is quite clear: there is still hope. (JASZAY Tamas)

Andrea Tompa: Theatre with a Sword – On Uj Szinhaz (New Theatre)

Based on a decision by the mayor of Budapest, one of the repertory theaters in Hungary’s capital got a new artistic director in October 2011. His proposal was immediately (and illegally) published on the internet (by law there is no obligation to publish either the proposed, or the winning projects.) Before now, a proposal like this could never have been written, let alone accepted. More a political pamphlet than a professional proposal, the application adopts the language and ideology of the extreme right. The appointment of this new artistic director has caused probably the biggest scandal in the cultural field in the last two decades.

The theater in question, currently called the Uj Szinhaz (New Theater) will be renamed the Hinterland Theater because, according to the proposal, what is new is not necessarily good, especially “in the degenerate sick liberal hegemony”.

Known for his “commitment to the Hungarian nation”, as he states in his letter of intention, Gyorgy Dorner, an actor and the new artistic director, and his intendant, Istvan Csurka, a playwright and founder of the extreme right party MIÉP (Party of Hungarian Truth and Life), propose to  have a theater of “real national values,” “real Hungarian spirit,” and exclusively Hungarian drama. Since Budapest, argues Dorner, has no National Theater, this theater will take over that role. (Budapest actually has a National Theater, with a strong artistic program, which has been under siege since the elections in April 2010. In the past few months, the disputes around the National have calmed down. The statement that there is no National Theater in Budapest refers to the fact that, according to certain ideologues, the National does not serve as a national institution.) In the present economic climate, the proposal states, a place of true Hungarian spirit and feeling of national unity, are a form of survival.

An analysis of the new artistic director’s proposal, reveals the centrality of the word ‘war’ as a metaphor, along with its synonyms, fight, struggle, battle and fighters. One of the battles will be held against “the liberal, entertaining, money making theaters of Budapest”, which he compares to brothels. Because the new “Hinterland Theater will represent the Hungarian nation suffering under social-liberal domination,” collaborators of the theater are referred to as fighters and warriors. War is declared against the “egotistical, over-confident theater clan which has ruled for 80-100 years”, his intendant, Istvan Csurka, stated in his own newspaper after their victory. The time reference is a veiled anti-Semitic comment, since a high percentage of theaters in Budapest were owned and managed by Jewish Hungarians before the second world war. Everything has been oppressed, states the intendant, which is not ruled by “them”, i.e. the clan.

You can check your coat and sword in the cloakroom – adds the new intendant- because it is difficult to park in “Dohany street with its institutions.” This is yet another unmasked anti-Semitic comment- the “institutions” being Dohany street‘s famous synagogue. So, the intendant argues, you have to prepare yourself in a different manner and bring a sword with you (i.e. to protect yourself in that area.) This passage refers to the fact that the theater building is next to the former ghetto of Budapest, which is considered the Jewish district.

The intendant declares: “[After opening the theater] I will rely first of all on a national-Christian audience, the support of my combatants, and on their renewed appetite for a fight.” The national-Christian audience is understood in Dörner’s proposal to be “those Hungarians who believe in nation”.

The name Hinterland Theater refers to the unifying of the Hungarian nation both in the country and across the borders. Hinterland Theater promises not only to be a national theater, but also to integrate Hungarians around the world.

The theater proposes to produce Hungarian drama of the past and present (together with classical world drama), particularly Hungarian drama which discusses the tragic fate of the Hungarian nation. The intendant also states that Gyorgy Spiro, a contemporary Hungarian playwright, will not be presented in his theater, because “as a writer” he did not prove to be Hungarian. I.e. his writing and sentiments are too Jewish.

The Hinterland Theater will not be a place for directors to experiment and interpret plays, but instead to ‘truthfully’ represent the texts. It will also be a place for young Hungarian writers who espouse certain traditions and values.

After the decision was made, intendant Csurka added: “Now, through the mayor’s decision, we feel both the sympathy and understanding of the whole government, and that this is only the first little step.”

In the appointment process of an artistic director, the final decision is taken by the owner of the theater, i.e. the local government and the ministry. A board of professionals read the proposals and make a recommendation concerning the decision. Politicians can, of course, make a different decision, an event which has happened often in Hungary over the last two decades. This time the professional board proposed a different person – the actual director of the theater. The mayor of Budapest did not feel it necessary to explain why he ignored the recommendation of the theater community and appointed somebody else . The real reason for appointing such an artistic director with such a proposal is indeed incomprehensible. (Something is being hidden here, stated Tamas Ascher, director, and member of the professional board. In a discussion with the former artistic director, Istvan Marta (quoted in a radio program), the mayor said that he liked the idea of a theater with Hungarian drama. So Márta asked him: why then didn’t they write a call for such a theater?)

Now it looks like the proposal did not even meet the legal requirements for the applications: Some important directors and theaters who were named in the proposal as future collaborators – such as the Euro Theater in Bonn – declared after the result was announced that the artistic director has not even been in contact with them; one of the potential collaborators mentioned – the Hungarian Theater in Canada – closed down 20 years ago. Additionally, the proposal outlines only a 2 year program (instead of the required five.) A legal examination could be started. The mayor did not back down – but he has made on concession: the theatre will be not renamed.

Since the elections in April 2010 there is a lot of tension in cultural field, including the attacks upon the National Theater and independent companies’ budget cut. But such an ideology could not move into an institution in Budapest – but now here we are.


Follow up:

15. 12. 11. The mayor of Budapest, Istvan Tarlos who appointed Gyorgy Dorner as an artistic director for Uj Szinhaz (New Theatre) asked the new director to change his intention on choosing Istvan Csurka, a playwright and founder of the extreme right party as an intendant. The fact is that the winner tender contains the name of Mr. Csurka, so evidently the question is there, whether the mayor is entitled to ask a change in the tender he chose.

04. 02. 12. Istvan Csurka diseased.

15. 02. 12. The undetermined contract of Balazs Galko, a former actor of Uj Szinhaz (New Theatre) was cancelled. Moreover Mr. Galko has reported that Gyorgy Dorner, the newly appointed managing director told him in their private meeting that ’from now on only people who believe in God and in the transcendent sphere may work in the theatre’. Mr. Dorner denied that he has ever supported his arguments with the former thoughts.

 Dancing politics – On Trafo – House of Contemporary Arts

It was the show of Yvette Bozsik which opened Budapest’s best open venue for national and international theatre and dance, the Trafo – House of Contemporary Arts in 1998.

Characteristic for the Hungarian dance scene that an independent dance company is forced to live on yearly applications for fund. Stability, planning for future, regular functioning are thus not part of the life of such a company. Yvette Bozsik had already had an attempt to apply for the position of the artistic director in a theatre – with no success though.

When in March 2011 the state secretary for culture stated that he would welcome the companies of Yvette Bozsik and Ivan Marko (the later being a once legendary figure in contemporary dance, now unimportant), the statement was received with anxiety: would such a statement mean that Trafo, this successful, multidisciplinary programming house will be changed into a national dance institution? And also the artistic director’s appointment is already decided without competition? Such experiences were not rare in recent times. Bozsik did not reject clearly the political intention, she vaguely stated she did not have any intentions with Trafo. But she did not speak up about her plans to the media. The situation became politically more and more complicated: rumours about the city council’s plan with Trafo gave place for anxiety, the independent scene had to undergo serious cuts, and the capital of Budapest, after the elections in April 2010, was planning to close down the whole Trafo. So should the state secretary’s statement be understood as a lifebelt to save the institution?

Professionals, intellectuals became alarmed about the future of Trafo when the application for the director’s position opened and Bozsik showed up with her own and another dance company moving into the institution as resident companies. Concerned about the future of Trafo, there was a conference organized about their achievements, trying to drive attention to certain values which should be defended and continued. Since with two resident dance companies it has been realised that the work of the present Trafo, will not be possible to continue. Neither Bozsik, nor the political representatives, decision makers were present in this debate. Many small and important inaccuracies could be listed here about the little transparent decision making process of appointing a managing director. Important is the fact that the mayor of Budapest appointed Yvette Bozsik as the new artistic director.

After her appointment, her application was published, where she heavily criticized the actual Trafo: “It is like a formerly exciting, innovative contemporary artist, who has become rigid in his own style and has stopped to reflect on the world around him.” She promises a more open house, but the tender only gives names of artists who were either introduced long ago by Trafo, either they are humbug (i.e. too expensive). One of the reasons of her dissatisfaction is that Trafo was not “Hungarian” enough: the international work was too dominant, “Hungarian artists could feel that they have been pushed out”. Bozsik stated that some choreographers pushed her to apply and she has been also „asked” (by politicians) to apply. (TOMPA Andrea)

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