Young Barbarians –  director: Attila Vidnyánszky Jr.

They say the best way to get to know each other is to go on a trip. The best way to get to know contemporary theatre is to go to the Theatre Olympics. This year the Hungarian capital has rightly become the theatre capital of the world: not only flags from many countries have gathered here (given the variety of languages spoken in the auditorium – people from all over the world come here), but also all genres of theatre and related arts. Here one rejoices in the vivid theatrical experiences that swept across the city, just like the opening ceremony of the Theatre Olympiad itself, which was an immersive journey. What makes this place sad, however, is the realization that it is impossible to embrace the immensity (more than 750 events and performances). In choosing one thing you automatically deny yourself the other, but each time you become convinced that you have made the right choice. The energy of the theatre transforms the city, the audience, spaces and even time. Here the time stretches (it is possible to prolong a beautiful moment), then it contracts (when you understand that the performance has already ended and it will never be encored). Journey, movement, travelling are the dominant features of the Theatre Olympics in Hungary. It seems that the theatre has finally emerged from quarantine and lockdown and set out to wander freely through the city, the country and people’s minds and souls. It is not a journey for a clear purpose, not a wandering after the Golden Fleece. The process is more important than the result, and the game is more important than the victory. That is the essence of theatre. But the peculiarity is that forgetting about winning and not striving for concrete result and striving to the unknown you end up with both victory and result. It refers both to the creators of performances and their spectators who rush into this theatrical path with childlike directness and faith in the best. Perhaps that is why one of the highlights of the Theatre Olympics was the performance Young Barbarians directed by Attila Vidnyánszky Jr., a play-adventure, improvisation, a play-journey without beginning and end, without route or destination, without borders or limits.

Young Barbarians is based on Miklós Vecsei H’s text and the improvisation of the actors. The story is based on the true story of the friendship between two pillars of Hungarian national music – Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. The title of the performance refers to Béla Bartók’s Allegro Barbaro and corresponds to its rapid pace. But even if you have never heard of these composers or their music, Attila Vidnyánszky, director and artistic director of the 10th Theatre Olympics, will definitely fall in love with Hungarian music. Young Barbarians is a reckless spectacle of youth and expression, lively theatre energy and the vitality of music. And as you know, there is as much art in every art as there is music in it. Here, TOKOS band, whose music by Dávid Mester resonates in the memory long after the performance, is responsible for the musical passions.

Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) essentially rediscovered folk music in their country, becoming the founders of modern Hungarian music. They devoted a great deal of energy to public activities aimed at developing the national culture. They travelled extensively in the Hungarian countryside (both were born in the provinces and came to the capital to study), collecting and studying examples of folk music, trying to make their voices, anxieties and dreams heard. The two colleagues and like-minded musicians created their own special, independent composition style on the basis of peasant folklore, reinterpreted to reflect their contemporary means of musical expression. At a time when German and Austrian musical traditions dominated Hungarian music, they were both unafraid to go against the system and assert their own vision of musical development. They were aware of the importance of continual movement forward, progress and new ways, and thus travel forward to discoveries, experiments, new forms. This sounds a little pathos-filled and boring, but in the performance this essentially serious subject takes on a very different, perky and melodic sound.

Despite the Hungarian musical flavor, the production by Attila Vidnyánszky Jr. has a Mozartian or jazz lightness (Benny Goodman, Eminem, Jimi Hendrix and many more, which the prototype characters could not hear here and sound organically!), but it is not lightweight, although the composer is literally weighed down on the stage… Created by the State Hungarian Theatre of Cluj and Gyula Castle Theatre it breathes youth and unbridled energy of improvisation. Traveling with Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, the audience explores the Hungarian cultural code, identity and history. It is a performance of heightened speed and dizzying dynamics. In essence it has the features of the infotainment genre – in a light and cheerful form it informs the audience a lot of useful, interesting and essential things. It’s not a boring formal biopic, but it’s not empty fun either. The production achieves a balance of usefulness and a musical party with a little bit of everything: humor, satire, drama, farce, wackiness and lots and lots of live music. The director claims that his production lacks a concrete message and moralizing. He is right and wrong at the same time. The production is indeed devoid of pretentiousness and an imitation of eternity, it lives and breathes with the energy of the moment, the very “here and now”, but at the same time, it serves as a link and a guiding thread of time, a symbol of collective memory, making the past easy to understand for various audiences, young people and adults alike. And Young Barbarians is also an antidote to the excessive seriousness that prevents one from enjoying life, creating, dreaming and composing. The director convincingly proves that the most serious things can be talked about jokingly, without diminishing the significance of objects and phenomena, because seriousness does not always equal depth.

PC: Lfju Barbarok.

“You have to dive deeper”, say the protagonists, donning diving clothes to delve into the world of musical culture, which is inseparable from culture as such. Overcoming the limits of serious self-perception through humor and self-irony, satire and surrender, the performance breaks down the fourth wall not only between ourselves and the audience, but also between the social man and what we are inside ourselves. In this respect, the play resembles a psychotherapy session. This is more important than ever today, when we are all mired in the unsolvable problems and challenges of the times.

Barbarians in ancient times were alien to Roman official culture. They were different. Young Barbarians speaks of different, unlikeable, unwilling to fit into common frames, driven by an important social mission. The play satirically portrays state institutions (post, radio) and how they perceive the individual and the individual perceives them. The characters go their own way, refusing to swim in the current. Not following in someone else’s footsteps. They pave their own path, and generations of descendants follow in their wake. Music is the beacon, the means of liberation, the best motivation and goal at the same time.

PC: Lfju Barbarok.

Not knowing Hungarian culture in all its intricacies, much is probably missing in this production. But this is more than compensated for by observing the improvisational nature of the production and the intoxicating musical accompaniment. That said, the improvisation and freedom of maneuver are here placed within the play’s strict plot framework, yet the performers are not cramped within the confines of the plot. Their sense of drive, unearned emotion and pleasure of being on stage is transmitted to the audience. Pure laughter, like the sound of notes, without any admixture of vulgarity, resounds in the audience.

The folk music motifs are combined here with dancing, which is in keeping with the nature of folklore. Music coming from the soul makes the body speak. The brilliant acting ensemble of the performance, in which actors of different generations and schools meet, vividly demonstrates the transformative power and symphony of the arts on the stage. One of the play’s strongest scenes is the episode when Béla Bartók’s piano is confiscated. The composer is deprived of the main substance of his life, meaning and air. The artist is not allowed to create. The piano in the production is embodied in the form of a girl and it is very symbolic and touching.

Young Barbarians is also subtly psychological. They tell the story of how friendships are forged between people and how creative, bright, inquisitive people, united by a common goal but choosing different paths to get there, diverge from one another. It’s the beautiful acting work of Barbarian B. – Éva Imre (here Bartók is a woman voiced by an outsider voice Balázs Bodolai – and this is a great artistic feat by the director. An unexpectedly effective move, illustrating among other things the subtlety of the character’s mental organization) and Barbarian K.- Ervin Szűcs, which capture the audience’s attention and emotions. There are many grimaces, gags and gags, but the main thing in this masquerade and feast of emotions is more subtle matters and feelings. The two friends here are like two extremes, two opposites who are attracted to each other. The halftones mean more bright, bold colors, so the meditative and restrained nature of some episodes is more intense than the catchy spectator fragments. The line between grotesque and good taste seems about to be crossed, but Attila Vidnyánszky buto has a specific emotional score and follows it clearly.

PC: Lfju Barbarok.

In the finale of the performance, which has the overriding aim of reflecting on Hungarian national culture, you suddenly catch yourself thinking that just as the folk tradition seamlessly blends into the framework of musical academism, the national culture is harmoniously woven into multiculturalism. In the finale, the foreigner that I was, the feeling of being alien disappears, and all those musical motifs and theatrical symbols so penetrate you that the distance between theatre, language, traditions and culture is erased. The richness of the theatrical imagination here is matched by the vivid imagination of the play’s characters. Attila Vidnyánszky’s melodic theatricality or melodic theatricality is impressive. This director seems to have an absolute theatrical ear…

…My music teacher used to say: “First the notes, then the music”, meaning that you have to learn the material first and then work on its presentation. In Attila Vidnyánszky’s performance of music and composers, it is impossible to grasp that edge of transition from technology to what we sometimes call theatrical wonder. Here the theatrical text and theatrical techniques and improvisation, the actors’ free breathing are balanced, and the performance appears to be an organic collaboration of its authors and performers, a single breath without redundant notes.

Young Barbarians is a play about the importance of striving for the new and overcoming the fear of change. It is a performance of emotional appeal and lively theatre energy. It can be recommended to audiences of all ages and theatre tastes.  It is undoubtedly a highlight of the Theatre Olympics, which this year will include 750 performances by 400 companies in 70 venues, all over Hungary. The scale is impressive, but the audience’s impressions of the performances are even more impressive. The improvisational spectacle inspires an improvised theatre and discussion club, and that is perhaps the highest praise for the performance – one doesn’t want to talk about it. And so is the Theatre Olympics, whose highlights will be covered by The Theatre Times.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Emiliia Dementsova.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.