The Contemporary Drama Festival’s aim is to support contemporary Hungarian drama, to boost its popularity and to let the public and international professionals know what’s new in Hungarian theatre. The programme is selected by an official jury from all Hungarian shows performed in Budapest, around Hungary and across the border, and means to be a showcase of the best of Hungarian theatre.
I attended the festival through a drama translation seminar organised especially for the festival by the festival director, Dr. Mária Mayerné Szilágyi, Beáta Pintér and translators Oxana Yakimenko and Laszló Upor. For the record, as a foreign translator there are certain events I regularly attend, to train the traduction muscles, such as the JAK Literary translators’ camp, events at the Translators’ House in Balatonfüred and events held by the Emerging Translators’ Network in the UK, and I left this seminar, like the others, with new ideas and those translation muscles aching.
Besides discussions and group seminars, over the six days of the seminar we saw six shows in five theatres. Those were, with their official English titles:
Onewoman ('Egyasszony', FÜGE and Orlai Produkciós Iroda)
It’s not the time of my life ('Ernelláék Farkaséknál', Látókép Ensemble)
The champion ('A bajnok', Katona Színház)
The Day of Fury ('A harag napja', Katona Színház)
Your kingdom ('A te országod', Forte Company)
The Case ('Az eset', Szigligeti Társulat)
All were shown with English supertitles, apart from The Case, which couldn’t have offered supertitles in its intimate location. Three shows in particular stood out: Onewoman, It’s not the time of my life, and Your kingdom. Let me take you through them. And for a snippet from Onewoman, read on.
Photo: Attila Takács
“Infant born with severe somato-mental and mental disabilities due to forced, quick labour.” This is the diagnosis Éva Péterfy-Novák received from every single doctor who examined her two-month-old daughter, Zsuzsi, whose condition was getting worse. The girl lived for seven years, and thirty years later her mother decided to write a blog about what happened during that pregnancy and those seven years. From this extraordinarily candid blog a book was born, from the book a play.
Onewoman is a monodrama based on a true story about the experiences of Éva Péterfy-Novák in giving birth to and raising her first child. About her experiences as a young mother with indifferent doctors and raising a child with sever intellectual disabilities. About the crumbling of her first marriage. About her maturation from young woman to adult. Directed by István Tasnádi and performed by Réka Tenki in Jurányi Színház, it was the first performance we saw and one we wouldn’t soon forget. It’s a one-hander, and Tenki glided through the show dropping us in heart-wrenching tragedy before shortly scooping us out again with beaming cheerfulness and humour. Go see it for yourself, in the Jurányi Inkubátorház in February.
See below for an excerpt in English from the play.
Photo: Marci Mónus
“He still knows what’ll silence a pub,” wrote Ádám Bodor, and it’s true: the tragically-fated Sándor Tar knew the depths of Hungarian society like no other. His heroes were history’s exiled: the humiliated, the crippled, the little people squeezed to the edge of the map, to the fringes of society, the ones never dealt in. Scorned workers who spent their entire lives building, so to speak, socialism only to be left to fend for themselves, and to eventually be crippled and killed by the system change.
Photo: Marci Mónus
Your kingdom, or perhaps ‘Thy kingdom’, gave me a first-hand glimpse into the humming, steaming and whirring factory floors of 80s socialist Hungary where jokes and gossip are tossed around like cigarettes. Into the dingy hallways of the workers’ residence. And into the smoke, cough and hush of the 90s söröző. Queued up to clock in were Whistler the brigade leader, Bucket the stammering water-boy, Jackdaw who got his name from his bird, and Nanny Nándi who’d get you a coffee or a condom for a good price. Forte Company are specialists of musical, physical theatre, so they chuffed, buzzed and rotated as they guided us through the rooms of their factory life. Until one day, socialism seemed to cave in and we watched them peter on alone back to the village. Sándor Tar's stories have been polished until they shine in this adaptation by Tibor Keresztury and Forte Company.
Now part of the Trafó repertoire, see it next on 22 February. All performances have English supertitles.
It’s not the time of my life
Photo: Lenke Szilágyi
At the end of our six day stint we, the translators, sat around a table and named which plays we enjoyed best out of all six. Onewoman got a lot of mentions, as did Your kingdom and Béla Pintér’s The Champion, but the one clear winner was It’s not the time of my life. And who could be surprised, when the exchanges between these two families are so true to life you wonder whether they’ve been filming your own family’s living room. On top of that, just to make you really feel at home, it’s all performed in a cosy flat between four walls.
The play begins as well-to-do Farkas and Eszter, husband and wife, wrangle over how best to raise their 8 year old son, when Eszter’s elder sister, Ernella, her unkempt husband and 10 year old daughter arrive unexpected – they’re supposed to be enjoying their lives in Scotland. But here they are, with suitcases. Indefinitely.
Photo: Lenke Szilágyi
As the conversation turns from money, to kids, to how lovely the Scottish are, and back to money; from one passive aggressive comment to another (It can’t be cheap to heat a flat this size), the atmosphere of the flat around the audience changes from cosy, to claustrophobic and back as we feel our own roles swing between guest and voyeur. The humour cracks like a whip throughout and the familiar subject matter makes it sting.
If you've already seen the film of the same name, this is a different experience; the intimacy of flat theatre only intensifies the players' authenticity, while at the same time magical motifs and the children (played by adults) occasionally drop us into a dreamworld completely absent from the film.
Go see it, on 3 February at the Kugler Art Szalon.
Onewoman - an excerpt
Photo: Attila Takács
3RD December, evening. I’ve got the runs, I figure, it’s the stress. By about midnight I’m gawking at the toilet bowl, wondering whether the baby’ll plop out because, you know, it was diarrhoea put my mum into labour. I’ve never been so afraid in my life. My husband’s at the barracks of course. At half four in the morning I say to Mum to call the ambulance. She asks if I’m having contractions. I don’t know what that means, so I say, yes.
We get to the hospital. During the lengthy bureaucracy the pain subsides. Perhaps I ought to go home. I want to escape for some reason, but I stay there of course, and let the whole world gawk at me. I’m not nervous, I’m not afraid, I’m tired and numb. The doctor on duty takes a look at me, he asks, if I have a doctor.
“Yes, Dr. Kádár.”
“Well, he’ll be happy to come in on his day off, won't he? We’re open an inch, dear, so we’re going into labour today.”
“I’ve been open an inch for a week now…”
I look at the nurses, in case one of them can help but they’ve got enough on their hands, they couldn’t give two hoots about me. I start to feel bad.
Why do I have to go into labour on my doctor’s day off? But it’s too late, they’ve called him already. They give me an enema… they shave me… [then he arrives!]
He’s here! Doctor Kádár! I’m always taken aback by what incredibly cold green eyes he has. He’s handsome, but his eyes ruin the whole effect. He takes a look at me, he’s tired, he tells me we’re going into labour, and I’m not to get distracted because he’s got tennis at ten. I get some injection to speed the whole thing up. He pats my bum and pinches my cheek.
The contractions start, they’re sudden and intense. Still not dilating. They’re still talking about the tennis over the top of me, that he’s got to get a fucking move on cos he’s playing with the boss, he can’t be late. As he’s fumbling about inside me, he explains to the nurses in painstaking detail how if everything goes well he’ll be a senior consultant soon, but for that, of course, he needs a recommendation from the “old man.” If the Party has no issue, though why would they, he’s a good comrade, that’s what’ll happen. Senior consultant. (he’s trying out the title) If I wasn’t so young, I’m practically a teenager, I’d say to him, how about he pay attention to my ass, at least for a second. But I put up with everything without a peep.
Photo: Attila Takács