I have no proof, but in all likelihood, the monumental Kafka-trip had something to do with the fact that in a short time Bodó became a multi-award winning director primarily in German-speaking territories. No surprise there: he had shown and done something that none of his predecessors and heroes before him. His theatre became the consecrated site of systemized, multi-channelled chaos, where the viewers entered each and every time with the agreeable but at the same time distressing sensation, that on Bodó’s stage anything, but really anything can happen that the machinery of the stage is capable of, and moreover, that his best shows reach a lot further than the plain joy caused by the working of the cogs.
Operation Krakken of the co-authors Viktor Bodó and Imre Mózsik, put on stage by the shared effort of Kultúrbrigád and Átrium conjures the past, and makes us impatient regarding the future. There is neither time nor space to relax in the ninety-minute, dead serious, yet funny survival trip, Bodó and his delicate creative team are like theatrical special forces: they mine the stage and the audience, blow them up with a few professional movements, only to reconstruct them with the same breath, they would perhaps even have to energy to give the street outside the theatre a face lift, but fortunately their focus is rather on the preconceptions and expectations of the spectators. I will not say that the end product teems with novel aspects and unparalleled surprises, but I will say that the familiar bag of tricks opens up the road to a whole set of unusual combinations.
The genre provided under the title hits the nail on the head: we are watching a psycho-thriller-crime-comedy, and it is up to every viewer to decide how and where to separate or connect the genres that work by themselves as well. The necessary component of the genre(s) invented by the creators is surprise, we will therefore endeavour to avoid spoilers as much as possible; not least because during and after the show we are left with the feeling that just like in any other comedy working like clockwork all the twists and turns are foreseeable. But it takes Bodó to sell all this boisterously and spectacularly in a gripping and most entertaining manner.
We are in the town of Sarntröll preparing for the world exhibition, a settlement with a rather Nordic cling to its name, and the inhabitants babble in a language that is a mix of English, French, Romanian, Russian, and German. Bodó’s characters usually tend not to understand one another, but they have perhaps never talked past one another so brazenly. The inability to communicate veers events to a classical situational comedy with lightning speed. The minister of culture arriving from Hungary, oh, my mistake, from Hoamcountry–who is strictly here for protocol, that is to do what serious statesmen do best these days, which is inaugurate, open, make a statement, smile for the cameras–fails the very first challenge, as he is clueless as to what the mistrusting, seemingly upset crowd is talking about. We are too, by the way, although if one listens to the language of Sarntröll and its interpreted version, one gets a taste of it with time, gets a sense of its logic.
The plot in a nutshell: The cultural leadership of Hoamcountry decided that for the world exhibition, although they cannot reach for the stars, they would definably give the Moon a shot. Literally, as the prime minister has a gigantic Moon built for the obvious reason to demonstrate that his little country is performing better. (The idea is not that far-fetched, see for instance the breath-taking venture of Luke Jerram, the Earth orbiting giant satellite called Museum Of The Moon). There is, however, a small issue with the new Moon, and the story turns into a Hungarian absurd drama not later than this point: the artificial satellite was never completed, only the dedicated subsidy evaporated somewhere along the way. As time passes the stakes are less about finding the culprit (who, following the logic of crime fiction, turns out to be who I guessed it would, a quick pat on my own back there), and more about the rescuing of the statesmen from an embarrassing situation. And in the meantime, we learn about the intricate web of the interests and manipulations of Sarntröll, also including exquisitely ridiculous, unlikely, and pathetic damage management practices.
The ingredient making the whole experience more interesting than a quality production of a well-written comedy is the busy team around Bodó on and behind the stage. Zita Schnábel designed an amazingly dismal space for the stage. Is it a construction site, an abandoned, sand strewn hall of a factory building, or perhaps a secluded nook of the exhibition not meant for the eyes of the visitors? Either way, there is plenty to look at on the walls and their base in the space getting even more degraded during the performance, we can muse on what the robust concrete surfaces may hide. Everything is at hand and (dis)functional when we least expect it, whether it is a lamp, a spigot, a safe, or an electric cable. Ildi Tihanyi’s costumes turn the actors into real transformation artists: there are sixteen performers on stage, but we seem to get the full cross-section of the Sarntröll community with dozens of people, including soldiers, clerks, menial workers, or the members of a TV crew. The unseemly or very becoming wigs, the curly, dangling and all-covering facial hairs, the huge sunglasses, the hodgepodge of colorful uniforms: they are the show.
And an occasion providing an opportunity for excellent teamwork. Viktor Bodó’s really superb shows in Katona, in Graz and of course in Szputnyik were in a sense a statement for the concept of the theatrical company. In this case, however, he turned the actors who came to Atrium with varying skills and very different sets of experience into a quasi-company, which does significantly raise the risk and the value of the enterprise.
Photos by Csaba Mészáros
The minister Recsord Rables played by József Gyabronka has a lot of distance to cover, even though we can already see how unpleasant he finds the job his boss has assigned to him well before he knows what awaits him. He is an arrogant, impatient, and volatile guy, who got used to his wishes being granted immediately in Hoamcountry. Or if they don’t, he can always resort to his magic weapon, Roburt Pondor. For the undersecretary portrayed by András Bálint no situation is impossible or unexpected, (almost) without moving a facial muscle he helps his seemingly incompetent boss out, who in turn buys the fakest solutions just to be able to move on to the next item on the agenda. Secretary Jácekson Ajvar speaking both languages of the play fairly well is a key figure. Balázs Benő Fehér makes a grateful role out of the somewhat goofy interpreter: Jácekson would prefer to smoke weed instead of chaperoning the minister, but as events get complicated and the temperaments get hotter, he plays the more and more passionate and energetic intermediary of the parties who persist in misunderstanding one another.
And then we have the locals: Kati Lázár and Piroska Molnár are in several shape and form the streetwise representatives of not so incorruptible power. Árpád Némedi is the semi-somnambulist errand man always at hand, who is a hard person to surprise, as is the white-collar gangster played by György Lugosi, routinely appearing in the intermissions of an opera. The main characters are effectively supported by the young artists changing roles from scene to scene. The assertive reporter of Niké Kurta, the infinitely daft worker of Barnabás Dékány, the phlegmatic girl ready to help of Nóra Rainer-Micsinyei, the burly dictator of Péter Lecső or the surprise man of Ádám Kovács all get their moment or two in the sun. So many memorable and somehow very familiar figures. For the same Moon rises over Sarntröll and Hoamcountry each blessed night. Whether we like it or not.
This article originally appeared in Revizor Online on June 15, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.
Translated by Péter Papolczy