Rita Sebestyén: Theatrical Interventions - on five recent performances of Maladype Theatre
During the almost ten years of its existence the approach of the Maladype towards the dramatic text, acting and public took a sharp turn.
At the beginning of the 2000s the company emerged with performances that introduced the viewer into a new conception of sacredness. The plays selected on this purpose hardly saw Hungarian stages before: Jacques or The Submission by Ionesco, The School for Buffons by Ghelderode, The Blacks by Genet, Pelléas and Mélisande by Maeterlinck – just to mention a few of them. The performances wove a texture of severe rituals from each of them displaying an uppermost rigorous net of fixed movements, colours, musical themes as a set of symbols is presented in an accurate pace. Believers or not, this on-the-spot holiness brought a fresh and harsh air to the public totally alienated from any devoted community-building experience since the metaphoric language of the arts in opposition of the communist era.
Recently, watching a performance of the Maladype could be paralleled with that of being a witness to a scrupulous and virtuoso, yet undeniably playful and ironic act of painting in red from top to toe the classical statue from the central square of the city. I dare to call these performances theatrical interventions as they boldly mix up text with extra-text; blur the borderline between real life and theatre and get the audience to take part in the act of creation. These three aspects mentioned above will be for help in pointing out the most eloquent scenes of their performances.
Leonce and Lena (directed by Zoltán Balázs, premiered in 2008): On the oriental-meditative-savage rhythms of the various percussions played by the only musician (Kornél Mogyoró), four men and four women reach to the verge of their physical capacity, concentration and understanding. They play and talk and envisage threads of love, freedom, oligarchy, bluntness and opportunism. The apropos is Büchner’s play that itself has a mosaic structure.
In the small studio of the centrally located Thália Theatre audience can take a seat on two opposite sides of the rectangular, white carpet of the stage. The walls show their original, technical black bareness. Some bamboo poles erect from the two smaller sides of the stage: in front of them stand all the actors who take part in the performance, those who play the game. Their black elastic harem pants perfectly suit the black-and- white Taoist minimalism of the setting. As a whole, it reminds of Mnouchkine’s Agamemnon in promoting the idea that everything that actually happens is initiated, carried through and ended by the human body. Face, complexion, everything that is human is in a vivid contrast with the stern background.
Zoltán Balázs, director of the performance welcomes the public as if they were invited to a party, a gathering of friends. He tells the gist of the story and also the rules of the game: some key scenes are selected from the linear narrative and are to be shown to us tonight. There are more variations for all these scenes (regularly four of them), and the spectators can choose which one of them would like to see. As an organic puzzle, each evening a new performance in flesh and blood is born out of the story-skeleton. Characters are freely handled: actors swop them from scene to scene. There is the action and the dialogue that amalgamates the plot and displays several ways of readings to us.
Could it be defined as a physical theatre? At the very beginning we witness a series of huge slaps on the face of the most fragile actress (Kamilla Fátyol), as Leonce (Ákos Orosz) tries to explain and show his own inability to take the lead of his life. Later on a fierce argument is shown by a drum-duel of bamboo poles, after which we see Leonce jumping on the floor on his belly and then standing on his head in the middle of the scene. We can actually see how Leonce cannot get rid of Rosetta (occasional, only physical affair of Leonce, played again by Kamilla Fátyol) who climbs up on a bamboo pole, while the others keep shaking it, and rotate it in a way that actually puts in danger the physical integrity of the actress. At the end she is thrown down on the floor from a height that is big enough to hear the bang of the flesh and knock of the bones. Actors are wrestling, hitting each other, experimenting centres of gravity of their bodies, show actual acrobatic stunts. Still, this is not simply a physical theatre.
While new and new scenes come in the unique row of the spectators’ choices, there is a certain need of a few moments of technical intervals while the actors get ready for the next part. But the scenes of high tension cannot be simply finished to let the energy leek out on the holes of preparation. To fulfil these moments, on random choices, called on by the director, the actors have to come up with some jokes in order to keep our – and their – attention alive. Otherwise, whenever the director feels so, he intervenes again right in the middle of the scene that needs the highest possible concentration to instruct the actors regarding the intensity, voice, attitude, etc. they play the given part. The players mind and soul is as much challenged as their body.
I would call this a circus of human existence: physical, psychical and intellectual stunt. Leonce and Lena and their helpers fleeing from their homes and heading towards the country border are actually wondering on the borderline of the human existence. And there they meet pain, love, fear and reconciliation. No-one cares anymore about the story itself. It is plain, truly. King Peter (the father of Leonce) has an incomprehensible fear of giving a speech in front of his people. There is nothing special about that. But if you happen to choose the variation called Vietcong, you will see a man struggling with a painful constipation squat on a square made of four bamboo poles and held up by the others. Or you can choose an alternative when his court will happily sing him “Don’t worry, be happy”. Or, if you want to see more variations of the same scene, you can opt for that. The only limit is time: the performance will never exceed three hours. The unique performance of that occasion can leave out or double scenes. And here it is a hidden bomb of the experience. If we totally lose the threads of the plot, the shape of the action and the motivation of the characters we are left alone with a series of etudes showed in high concentration with actors who mastered in their profession and a long time spent in brilliant, empty playfulness. I presume, the performance can never be restricted to this glamorous senselessness – the director is too vigilant to let it sink into pointlessness – , but there are certain moments of lapse when stunts, jokes, games and witty replies cannot reach to the overloaded sense and sensibility of the viewer.
Whatever happens during the given performance, it always ends with the marriage of Leonce and Lena. There was a suddenly cold early-October day when I last saw the performance in 2010, being on the repertoire for 2 years, having three new actors who were still on their way to knit into this lively piece of art. In the audience they spotted a girl and a boy, in the very first years of their teenager hood. From bamboo poles and their arms and joints the actors formed a merry-go-round and took turns slowly, just as in a dream. They invited the two youngsters on this device. To my biggest amazement they got into the game, shyly, in a low key, and with a lot of dignity. We all listened in silence the last sentences of the play saying how this couple will share the next twenty-thirty-forty years. And the merry-go-round took slow and careful turns.
Egg(s)Hell (directed by Zoltán Balázs, premiered in 2008): Regardless of aesthetical, social, literary or any other point of view, I have never met a literary critic who would not consider Sándor Weöres one of the biggest Hungarian poets. His oeuvre manifests in clear and transparent language, mischievous rhythm, elegance and some simple-spelled, deeply-reached philosophy. Maybe we could say Taoism again – as an easy-to grab, still meaningful attribute to give a hint to the European mind . In the performance that was named after one of Weöres’s famous one-lined poems no-one utters a word. But the rest; the main attributes of Weöres’s poetry are still there.
After Pina Bausch and Josef Nadj productions the costumes worn by the dancers/actors could be almost regarded as classical ones. Barefoot men wear black suits, white shirts and ties. Women wear solid knot of hair, black dress and pumps. It is the same cast as in Leonce and Lena; the same changes to the cast since the premiere. Both performances embrace the whole actual company/involve each and every member of the company like a ritual of community-building with occasional invited guests playing the role of the spectators. The same black and bare walls. Black floor, too. Eight black Thonet chairs and several plastic pink flamingos.
They start with a rhythm and concentration game: walk in pace among the chairs with the scope to find new seats again and again till someone will not be able to find his or her place. Long-long minutes, while the players stroll around: smooth steps, graceful and nonchalance movements. The joy of sailing. Their serenity soon contaminates the audience. Cool jazz and silent smiles.
Soon eggs enter the game. Eggs in the hand, eggs in the mouth – from hand to hand, from mouth to mouth; variations. If they fall down, someone brings a small plastic bucket from the edge of the playground and collects them. Then a huge ostrich egg is the ball in a cautious football-game. In the meantime they construct and deconstruct flamingo-installations. The plastic birds form a circle in the middle, form a V, or an M, or who knows what different shapes. They are there to equilibrate the space. For a long time I was waiting for something definite to happen to them, but that was not the case. The plastic rose flamingos are to contrast equally the living eggs and the broken, dying eggs; to contrast life and death.
Like a series of associations in a meditative mood, scenes – or rather, games with their specific rules – ask for more and more technical knowledge and concentration. Girls climb on some small edges on the black wall to considerable height and throw themselves into the arms of the boys standing downstairs. All smile in relief as they succeed. Very important: they never hesitate to smile when actually can accomplish their tasks. They step through the boundaries of the actors’ existence, they are present here as players.
As the game progresses, after some shorter musical themes Bolero by Ravel starts and it lasts till the end of the performance. The whole construction of the composition leads to the almost ecstatic peak: girls’ hair is let down, they also changed their black dresses into colourful ones (red, yellow, blue), their pumps slip down as do the boys’ jacket. Their bodies are living instruments, and they are not afraid to show their joy meanwhile playing their opus. There is no canonical reading or understanding of this huge game of body and soul and life and death and music and dance. There is only being together with it. I had my moments of emptiness, but I do not really know who to blame for it. As in this case it is really all in the eye of the beholder.
Lorenzaccio (directed by Sándor Zsótér, premiered in 2009): There is given a romantic play of the very young (only 23 years old) Alfred de Musset that tackles with a traitor who turns out to be a hero who turns out to be rotten inside meanwhile playing the traitor. In the renaissance Florence faith, love and patriotism is just a deceit of the appearances that conceals all the seven deadly sins.
The cast – as usual for this kind of gigantic tableau – is enormous. Five actors in the corner of the space are almost pressed against the walls being surrounded from two sides by the spectators. The whole setting is predominated by all shades of red, pink, rose and purple. Some gothic and renaissance reproductions torn out from books and an ugly-retro lamp are the background. In the middle stand a white fake-antique table and two chairs. Lying on the table there are hundreds of knitted and crocheted red gloves that will be used as costumes, props and puppets. For example, as we first hear about Lorenzaccio, the coward minion of the tyrant Duke, we see his face (the leading role is played again by Ákos Orosz) distorted into the figure of a mongoloid idiot by the huge red glove put on his head; the cuckold husband of the marquise is represented by a dragon made from a huge number of gloves that were lying on the table. Finally, a few minutes before Lorenzaccio finally kills the Duke (Ádám Tompa), the latter has a nice, childishly innocent sleep covered by the blanket of gloves.
This time the plot is complex, relationships multifaceted. It gets even more complicated if we add the fact that the twenty-four dramatis personae are reduced to sixteen (again a very clever translation and adaptation of Júlia Ungár) and played by five and that the whole play is very similar to a movie-script (i.e. lots of scenes, lots of changes, freely handled space and time). It is not possible for me to estimate how much a viewer can perceive if they never met the text before, as I also meet difficulties when trying to follow the chain of actions. At a certain point I give it up and just watch the sarcastic and sore tableau of decadence, painted deliberately in plastic and spurious colours that in fact reveal the pain behind the ironic grin of the artist. It seems to be a much more reasonable approach to let the symbols and senses work and thus follow the story of the provocative purple of the nun’s cap worn by the bearded actor who will soon play the part of Lorenzaccio’s mother. To let ourselves driven by the connotations of the red unisex overalls open down to the belly-button, the knitted and hence useless chainmail. And in the most suggestive scene we see the main hero as he divulges his secret intention to kill the Duke and gets rid of all his fake and posh cloths and stands in front of us naked, in a pair of red socks and with a golden cross pendant hanging in his neck. A naked body on the stage is a sign of truth and defencelessness. Here it gets some further attributes: the cross – I mean faith – that has been so many times tainted throughout the performance and the red of sin, blood, turbulence and passion. The pulsating fist of the actor shows the naked heart of the hero. The whole performance is an ambiguous net of genuine and fake, true and false, hero and anti-hero, killer and liberator. Leaving the hardly comprehensible, over-complicated story behind, I guess that one of the most effective readings of the performance would lean on the observation of this wealthy fabrication of antagonistic and simultaneous presence of symbols. And we cannot abstract either from the present: the obvious visuals are completed by some very up-to-date phrases: “liberal gay”, “come and visit me, I will have you paint Mary Zsuzsi ”.
Finally Lorenzaccio kills the Duke, tyrant of Florence, descendant of the de Medici’s by tearing out the Duke’s guts with his teeth and nails – some rose robber-gloves are extending and clasping in a macabre way – and then he is caught and killed. We see him simply walking out on the backdoor, like an actor who got too tired of his role. The council elects a new de Medici on the throne of Florence, and very evidently the murdered Duke revives as the new one while the actors vividly sing that nerve-racking, stupid Ghostbusters-song.
Ubu King (premiered in 2010): All three performances above can be seen in the studio of the Thália theatre. This performance was conceived for the new venue of the company which is a quite spacious flat in a (let’s say) bourgeois town house of a recently revitalised district with lately modest pubs.
The spectators have to ring the bell and the pr of the company comes down and leads them in groups up into the apartment. Some pictures of their performances on the walls, a cup of water or tea in the kitchen – the atmosphere is that of a beginning of a house party where the first guests have just shyly arrived. Our coats are taken and we are led to the area that must have been one of the bedrooms when resided. The “stage” – if one could call that after such an amalgamation of everyday reality and performance – is now a half-pyramid pile of tabloid magazines in the corner of the room, bordered by two perpendicular sides of the spectator’s space. We sit on benches; the capacity is around 45-50 people.
The basic conception of the performance goes back to the origin of Jarry’s text: a farce conceived by adolescent students; a wild and satirical parody of greed and power that became an outstanding act of the surrealist movement. Here starts the performance, too: it fuses everyday reality and theatre without any intention to draw a borderline between them. It is hard to say whether the ironic grin on the players’ face belongs to the role or to the actor himself who has his own vision upon the characters and the story.
Those familiar with the company’s theatrical language do not even look around to find more actors than the four men sitting comfortably on or in the pile. Simplicist setting and radically reduced costumes again; representative for the last performances directed by Zoltán Balázs. This time there are black, shorter-bit longer trousers with coloured tights under – red, blue and green – and braces of the same colour. The fourth character: Ubu king himself is dug in the middle of the tabloids reaching up to his neck (Ákos Orosz). His wife, Mama Ubu (Zoltán Lendváczky) is of course a young man, a seemingly mischievous, but as the action develops deadly dangerous goblin whose high-pitched voice and mocked sophisticated movements depict and taunt the character in the same time. S/he initiates all evil actions – murders, dethronement, pilferage – around the insatiable, enormously egoistic and stupid Papa Ubu. The other two “moving” players sit around Papa Ubu, make incredibly wide range of props from the papers and move and sing and fight and die – a whole world revives through their acting (as always, Zsolt Páll and Ádám Tompa are powerful playfellows to the two leaders). Eye-blinks, short giggles echo some crumbs of the players’ reflection. Even later, as we are getting more and more involved into the world of the text current reality infiltrates from time to time into the action: if not a gesture or laughter, then some ludicrous quotations from the magazines. The harshness reminds that of Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class while the irony and liveliness refers to the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy’s seemingly light-hearted caricatures that through the metaphor of a school class depict complex relations, characters and even critical approach towards society. Maladype’s Ubu King is less macabre than the former and more painful than the latter.
Ubu King makes again a big step in opening a window between arts and quotidian – even the rehearsals could be followed by those interested. A game of puppeteers, of people inviting us to their workshop and venue showing their own reflections via a ruthless farce of power and society make us laugh and think, drift us with their high pace of symphony written on human existence.
Platonov (premiered in 2010): Back into the studio of the long-time co-operator Thália Theatre and also as part of the programme of the Budapest Autumn Festival, this performance finally justifies the recent decisions of Zoltán Balázs regarding the three new members of the company. The whole team of players-actors-thinkers outline a harmonic organism with their roles that suit their physical and psychical habit. They all stake high: the length of the performance is three hours and a half (with one interval), and the very middle of the small space is almost totally occupied by a black-and white billiard pool. These two frightening factors put forward certain static conception. Apparently.
The floor is subtle and sensitive white; it suggests a sort of groundlessness, as if the characters would slip or float on this delicate basis. Around the white top and black legs of the pool table there is no more than 1.5 meters wide space and when you enter you start wondering how this huge, static set will be crammed with life and energy. The table is surrounded by the public from all four sides and thus we quickly realize that in fact we have been invited to a pool-championship. In the first rows of the audience there are eight seats – two by each side – where the actors have already taken a seat. They look aristocratic and elegant in their black and white and beige dresses, with small, sophisticated movements, moments of smiling and quick crossing glances. During the performance they will enter the pool-game and the space, then go back again to watch the actual players and thus three, very gently separated layers of the performance are revealed. First, there is the Chekhovian play itself: a very well read and interpreted world of men and women living now a superficial, seemingly glamorous social life and repressing their former aspirations by getting involved in love affairs and vicious games. The second layer shows the players as they sit back to their chairs still bearing their character in their gestures, facial expressions and sometimes sudden interventions into the scene. The entrances and exits are genuinely solved by this simple yet expressive stage convention. And finally, from time to time we can discern how the actors react and reply to the play and characters through their small movements and gestures. And there are the slippery, exciting moments when the performers master in blurring these three strata with their quick smiles and glances.
Ákos Orosz as the unwilling womanizer and trivial philosopher with his sarcastic smile that hides deep existential sorrow plays the leading role again. We can at last see Kamilla Fátyol in a significant role as Sofya, who was maybe the first, adolescent love of Platonov and now reappears as a new capture on the palette of this distorted rebel. As a presence, as actor she shows an ironic approach towards her own character as she moves and pouts like a spoilt child while interrogating Platonov about his recent heroic actions aiming the liberation of humankind. In opposition, the transparent and straightforward nature of her own husband – Zoltán Lendváczky –, who bears the whole poignant tragedy of these people, is not attracting for her anymore. Zénó Faragó as Isak, the truant college student is a skinny, stinging Iago full of resentment and hatred ready to demolish the whole world – starting with his own father, Abraham. He jumps backwards from the pool table with a prompt, harsh and perfect movement that suddenly confers him almost super-natural power. From this point we really believe that he would be able to destroy the world. His father, Abraham, played by Páll Zsolt is maybe the only one who can boast with a certain success in the society – a dubious one, as he made his fortune from public houses –, shows silent dignity and some resentment. At the end he will also lose his entire sobriety when his love towards the bright and decadent Anna Petrovna – impersonated sensitively and with an amazing wisdom by Judit Ligeti Kovács – is finally totally destroyed. Sasha, the wife of Platonov – Erika Tankó – clambers up on the pool-table and walks round and round on its edge with an accurate obsession of lunacy and continues this during a few scenes. In the meanwhile her husband is cheating on her, while she is waiting for him, and her son gets ill. A harrowing image of the sightless who denies perceiving the depth of her life. The performance starts with the cheerful pool-game of the P.D. – Ádám Tompa –, the grinning figurine of the irresponsible physician drown in alcohol and imbecility.
They all play the pool-game, interpret the characters and step out for a quick allusion. The guest actor, Vica Kerekes plays Maria Yefimovna, the only one that shows resistance towards Platonov only to fall deeper into his net a bit later. The actress is also a fragile character and she is a bit frightened by the daring artistic adventure of the company, showing an appreciable, still somewhat outsider acting. This brittle border between drama and pool-game and reality is also a hazardous territory for all players: there are some small mistakes and hesitations especially when extra-texts occur (I saw the performance two weeks after the opening night).
According to the conception, the text is not adapted to any contemporary slang, or any arbitrary theatrical vision. Specifically, it keeps intact the main dramatic outline and original dialogues (with some cuts in this huge text and also in the long line of dramatis personae); then adds some extra-text referring to the pool-game and astutely reflecting on the relationships between the characters, and finally leaves some smaller holes for the players where they have to improvise according to the recent status of the game on the table. An accurate and deeply thought work again from the dramaturge Judit Góczán who has been working with the company from its first years. Generally, the text perfectly follows the whole theatrical ars poetica of the Maladype: reads very carefully and attentively the text itself puts it on stage with the same exact interpretation and in the same time leaves some extra room around the stage where they can move as some common people and can show their reactions towards the text. This elementary, liberating gesture allows us as a public to get absorbed by the piece and be able to watch it from outside as well. And basically this is what the concept of artistic intervention covers: a very playful yet very serious game of in and out, of definition and re-definition, of empathy and distance.
Purist, sometimes abstract, still comprehensible and close to the viewer’s reality: the last few years of Maladype as a company have shown a definite progress towards a bold and open conception of theatrical art. There has been some fluctuation of actors apparently in the same time with this change of conception and probably given to the fact that actors’ work has considerably changed too. Here playing in a performance means keeping themselves on the highest peak of their physical, intellectual and psychical capacity while in perfect harmony with the troupe as well. Leonce and Lena and Egg(s)Hell are typically performances based on work on ensemble and thus we see an even play and acting of the company as a whole (there are some short periods of exception when a new member arrives and is attributed somewhat less tasks than the others until getting used to the performance and the company). And it is true that Ákos Orosz who is protagonist in all other cases is an outstanding co-thinker and co-player with the artistic director Zoltán Balázs and audience as well. However, I feel the urge to see in more significant roles some other members of the company who have proved to be exceptionally sensitive to this impressive theatrical experiment over the years: Kamilla Fátyol, Zoltán Lendváczky, Zsolt Páll and Ádám Tompa. Hopefully the inspired work of this company will organically lead to more harmonic casting. And it seems that Platonov has moved towards this direction.
(the author holds a PhD in Theatre Aesthetics,
is an essayist and writer contributing to periodicals
and anthologies in English and in Hungarian)
Georg Büchner: Leonce and Lena directed by: Zoltán Balázs
translation: Gábor Thurzó, György Rónay
dramaturgy: Judit Góczán
set: Judit Gombár
King Peter / Prince Leonce / Valerio - Zénó Faragó, Ákos Orosz, Zoltán Lendváczky, Zsolt Páll, Ádám Tompa
Princess Lena/ The governess / Rosetta / The Court - Kamilla Fátyol, Judit Ligeti Kovács, Erika Tankó
Percussions: Kornél Mogyoró
Egg(s)Hell directed by: Zoltán Balázs
set: György Katus
costume: János Breckl
music advisor: Bánk Sáry
Zénó Faragó, Kamilla Fátyol, Zoltán Lendváczky, Judit Ligeti Kovács, Ákos Orosz, Zsolt Páll, Erika Tankó, Ádám Tompa
Alfred de Musset: Lorenzaccio directed by Sándor Zsótér
set: Mária Ambrus
costume: Mari Benedek
translation, dramaturgy: Júlia Ungár
Lorenzo de’Medici, Lorenzaccio - Ákos Orosz
Alessandro de’ Medici prince/ Cibo cardinal / Pietro Strozzi / Cosimo de’Medici - Ádám Tompa
Maffio, citizen / Cibo marchioness / Caterina Ginori, Lorenzo’s aunt / Tebaldo, painter / Filippo Strozzi - Zoltán Lendváczkyky
Maurizio, member of the Eights Council / Lorenzo’s mother / Bindo, Caterina és Lorenzo uncle - Zsolt Páll
Gabriella, citizen / Giomo, Alessandro courtier / Scoronconcolo, assassin - Kamilla Fátyol
Alfred Jarry: Ubu King directed by: Zoltán Balázs
dramaturgy: Judit Góczán
set and costume: Kamilla Fátyol
Papa Ubu - Ákos Orosz
Mama Ubu / Queen Rosemonde / Nicholas Rensky / Bear - Zoltán Lendváczky
Captain Bordure / King Wenceslas / Nobles / Phynanciers / Peasant / Councilors - Ádám Tompa
Boggerlas / Michael Fedorovitch / Czar / Magistrates/ Peasant / Stanislas Leczinsky / Captain - Zsolt Páll
A.P. Chekhov: Platonov directed by: Zoltán Balázs
dramaturgy: Judit Góczán
set and costumes : Bea Molnár
Anna Petrovna Voynisteva: Judit Ligeti Kovács
Sergei Pavlovich Voynitsev, her stepson: Zoltán Lendváczky
Sofya Yegorovna, his wife: Kamilla Fátyol
Nikolai Ivanovichi Triletsky: Ádám Tompa
Maria Yefinovna Grekova: Vica Kerekes guest
Abram Abramovich Vengerovich: Zsolt Páll
Isak Abramovich Vengerovich, his son: Zénó Faragó
Mihail Vasilievich Platonov: Ákos Orosz
Aleksandra Ivanovna (Sasha), Platonov’s wife: Erika Tankó
Rita Sebestyén: Theatrical Interventions - on five recent performances of Maladype Theatre