The Nibelung Residency

The script of Kornél Mundruczó's production was taken from the second (Siegfried's Wedding) and third (Hagen, or Hate Speech) parts of the trilogy, and the company performed the scenes in the narrow and musty corridors and depressingly desolate fortified chambers of the labyrinth of the wartime emergency hospital deep under Buda Castle, mostly in a large operating theatre. As a theatrical space, of course, this location radically rejects Térey's stage directions, the satisfactory implementation of which would more likely require a huge open air opera stage. The labyrinth hospital, which is also, at least by Second World War standards, a bomb-proof shelter, allows a unique taste of the apocalyptic dimension of Nibelung Residential Park. Everything here is reminiscent of wars, catastrophes or states of emergency: the stretchers, the gasmasks, the first-aid kits, the blankets, the makeshift kitchen and the makeshift operating theatre. It is as if the location projects onto the text the catastrophe that awaits the world when the great economic powers, the poet Ady's "pig-headed great lords", have finished their battle.

The underground labyrinth holds the audience captive over the space of four long hours. It is not really possible to leave during the performance or the interval; at most, those who need to can disappear to the toilet accompanying the "set". Once the iron gate of the hospital "closes" behind the audience, they have to "walk through" the performance together with the actors, becoming a part of it, so that they are literally "present" in the scenes. Along the corridors, pushed up against a wall, one occasionally stops to realize that one's neighbour, who one didn't notice before, is in fact an actor "performing" in the scene. In a sense, these actors are not performing Térey's play, but rather an apocalyptic ritual for which they use Térey's characters and text. That there is nevertheless a deep connection between the play and the performance is shown by Térey's description of the Siegfried's Wedding section as a "ritual drama" and the Hagen or Hate Speech part as a "catastrophe drama". The Krétakör production is the ritual of a catastrophe.

The actors do not play parts or roles; rather, they make use of their personalities, bodies and voices as the mediums of a theatrical ritual. The issue of whether, from a dramatic point of view, certain characters could have been better written or not loses its significance. The dramatic narrative is forced into the background, substituted by the continuous and highly intense physical presence of the actors. The price of this is that the progress of events, particularly for those not acquainted with Wagner, is even harder to follow than in Térey's original text. According to the director's statement, "it is no problem" if the viewer even snoozes for a while on the operating table. His mise en scene, which involves the audience in a kind of "time travel", rewrites and recreates Nibelung Residential Park in the same way that Térey rewrites The Twilight of the Gods. While in the Térey case the Wagner opera is reinterpreted as a literary text in a postmodern sense, the Krétakör production translates the verse drama into formal theatrical language - true, not one that has much in common with the standard language of contemporary Hungarian theatre.

This does not mean that Térey's play could not be performed in a different way, perhaps using considerable technical apparatus to move the emphasis onto the monumental travesty. It is not clear whether such a production, or any other, will ever come into being, but I am certain that the experiment in the labyrinth hospital and Térey's imagination represent two of the highest cultural achievements in recent decades. Their influence is undoubtedly narrowed by the production's dependence on the unrepeatable location and the text's dependence on current colloquialisms. At the same time, an interesting symptom of the "openness" of the theatrical performance is that an important role, the function of communicating with Hungarian viewers that is not present in the original Térey, is played by a German actor, who, in Hungarian, creates a link between our age and the mythical world.

Miklós Györffy, Hungarian Quarterly