István, Mária: Visual Aspects of The Tragedy of Man
The visual appearance of a performance is a particular and complex art form, that is in constant change and movement within the theatrical space throughout the total time of the presentation. Until the appearance of the film and videorecording this work of art could not be preserved and documented completely. From the ephemeral and transitory performance only the scene and costume designs have survived, which are in most cases only drawings of a greater series or portray only certain elements of the whole scenery, that is backcloth, stage-plan, and various details. In order to be able to imagine a past performance as a live, moving reality and its richness, these plans serve as a basis.
The stage scenery together with the costumes and lighting consist of three fundamental layers: the function, content and form. Its main function is to provide a play-field for the actors. Its shape and structure is mainly dependent on the director's conception of moving the actors around. The scenery as a work of art consists of a "message", which the director or designer wishes to convey with the audience through the visual element of the performance. The form of realisation, its style and language, which make up the third layer is where the designer's personality may express its own artistic views to the utmost.
Therefore scenery and costume-design cannot be considered a fine art, in the sense that it is not an "independent art form", but an "applied art". When considering the scenery and costume designs that have been preserved, it is the style, in other words the third layer, that is most easily accessible to study. However, if it is considered only as a painting, and only the two-dimensional composition and the colour effects are examined, then the information acquired in this way is insufficient to conceive the whole spatial and temporal extent of this complex work of art. Therefore, it is worth continuing and trying to reconstruct the whole visual appearance of the performance on the basis of other attainable sources.
The scenery and costume-design is on the one hand connected to other visual art forms, in that it is dependent on their results, follows the stylistic changes, and at the same time has its own history, development and individual dilemmas. These are for example a question of two- or three-dimensionality (picture or architecture), the faithful representation of reality or the dilemma of projecting the inner visions, meiningenism, anti-naturalism, and other styles and trends of scenic design.
As one of the most outstanding Hungarian classical dramas The Tragedy of Man has at all times managed to maintain the directors' centre of attention. Any new production and performance is considered a significant venture, a great theatrical event. That is why all these stage settings clearly illustrate the main phases in the development of the Hungarian theatre art. *(From these set-designs has been opened an exhibition entitled Scene by Scene at the Gizi Bajor Actors' Museum in March 1998.)
At the turn of the century it has still to permanently break away from the Austrian, Viennese dependence, as the famous Eszterhazy scenic-designs were also created in those workshops. Later on the establishment of an independent Hungarian scene designing can be clearly traced, as well as the emerging prestige of the profession, its institutionalising, an the successive theatrical styles.
The task of illustrating The Tragedy of Man has naturally occupied a number of well known artists, and the artistic vision created by them does at times coincide with the history of the play's stage scenery.
Mihály Zichy, a popular painter and graphic artist in the second half of the last century was the first person to attempt to interpret the tragedy's thoughts with his own particular artistic means and individual views. Zichy is a romantic master whose main characteristic within his sketches are an escalation of passion and intense feeling. These illustrations concentrate on the three main protagonists, Adam, Lucifer and Eve, whose figures and their relation to one another is highly emotional. Adam pursues a heroic and grand scale struggle against the currents of time, whose heroic deeds are most obvious in the realest of historical moments. He has pyramids wilt in Egypt, and is a victorious commander in ancient Athens. He undergoes the uttermost passions, experiences the most extreme situations, victory and fall.
Zichy's works are extremely subjective whereby he had managed to enclose in the series his individual personality and feeling. One may even feel his personal anger emerge from the historical scenes against all oppression, tyranny, and manages to express his own uncertainty and despair in the figure of Adam.
The surroundings of the major protagonists are created with a few vigorous motifs, without the need for detail. An example for this is the monumental piece of stone-block used as a pedestal for the pharaoh's throne, which is also present in the Athens scene, or the accentuated, simple steps, or the bare platform used for the guillotine. It is quite remarkable, as to what extent these solutions prove to be theatrical, and "practicable". As a "scenery" some of them are surprisingly modern, to the extent that it is almost a precursor of Adolphe Appia's first, symbolistic period.
Madách's drama following its birth took some time in being produced, since it was argued for quite some time whether it can be performed at all. Naturally, Mihály Zichy's all overwhelming vision inspired the scenic-designers, and the 1892 Vienna, as well as the 1908 folk-theatre productions used it as a source of inspiration. Both performances strove for a superb achievement, and represented the traditional, romantic Viennese trend of scenic-design, which was accomplished on a high professional level.
The scenic-designs *(The designs were published at the beginning of the century in the Budapest scene painter's, Vilmos Linhart's catalogue: Theatre Scene-Painting - Instructions for the Production of Scenery), connected with Vilmos Linhart's name, do not only modify the Zichy drawings for the use of the theatre in that the sketches are adjusted to the adequate size of the stage-opening, but also in detaining their austerity: based on an older theatrical fancy the sets are crowded with buildings and plants. In the Prague scene for example, where two Zichy etchings are available, the first interior is converted into a Gothic garden pavilion while the other, a park is complemented with thick shrubs. The platform of the guillotine, well known from the Zichy illustration of the revolution scene, is placed in the middle, while on the right and the left, respectively in the background it is surrounded by the houses of Paris.
A special issue of the 1914 Magyar Iparművészet (Hungarian Applied Arts) periodical well illustrates the aspirations of the new 20th century stage movements. Among the theoretical articles, Hungarian and foreign designs, published here beside the works of Edward Gordon Craig are two sketches by György Kürthy, which symbolistically simplify the scenic-design. In an article published in the Művészet (Arts) a year later the author provides almost the whole series accompanied by explanations. His aim with the designs is to join in the revolutionary theatre movement, and to make use of the new stage technology. He interprets The Tragedy of Man as an abstract work of art, which does not fit in with the use of realistic scenery. His interpretation is based on new devices, that is the cyclorama and lighting. The colour-palette of symbolism is used in designing the scenes. On the basis of his description Byzantium, for example, is a white city within a green night, with purple shadows; and Prague is grey and milky-white. *(György Kürthy: The new visual artistic solution of "The Tragedy of Man". Művészet, 1915, p. 407-413.)
In the last scene the rock and the two humans standing upon it are given a brown silhouette the background air is "milky-yellow"'. Edward Gordon Craig's influence can be clearly felt in the series, as for example the solution for the Athens scene indicates the knowledge of the "Steps" series.
György Kürthy plays an important role later on too, in the development of the Hungarian scenic design. He initiates the instruction of scenic-art in 1927 at the College of Applied Arts, and among others launches Mátyás Varga's career.
By the middle of the 1920s following the First World War the profession could organize itself anew, and in the "first Hungarian scenic-art exhibition" held in 1925 the central focus was placed on the problem of creating the theatrical space. Two young entrants come forward here, Gusztáv Oláh and Benedek Baja, who are the originators of the Tragedy's two major scenic-designs the following year.
Gusztáv Oláh had already planned a scenic-design for the Tragedy's Sándor Hevesi production, which made use of the "Stilbühne" manner, with a permanent set frame, and a symbolic use of the colours in the various scenes, thereby emphasizing the dream-like quality. Their next performance on a "mystery-play stage" took place in 1926 that created quite a reaction. The setting consisted of a fixed structure with steps leading up on both sides and horizontal levels, as well as a central connecting bridge. The background consisted of four columns. *(Aurél Kárpáti: The Tragedy of Man as a Mystery, Nyugat, 1926, p. 795-797. Provides the description.). In this construction Antal Németh thought to have discovered the successor of an 1876 German Faust stage, this solution however relies just as much on Appia's 1914 set, which was designed for Claudel's L'Annonce faîte à Marie, or on Edward Gordon Craig's multi-purpose setting for Macbeth and Hamlet.
The City Theatre also staged a performance of The Tragedy the same year with Benedek Baja's modern and expressive scenery. The visual appearance of the various scenes on a simplified stage blended the stylistic features of modern painting from symbolism to expressionism. The brilliant bold colours of the scenery achieved a great success among the critics as well, though the performance itself was a failure, because the actors' style was still rooted in the previous century. *(Andor Németh The Tragedy of Man in the City Theatre. Nyugat, 1926, p 400-401.)
So that during the year of 1926 two scenic-designs were created based on contemporary trends: Gusztáv Oláh chose the architectural, while Benedek Baja a pictorial stage-set.
In the history of the Tragedy's performances a new chapter had begun with the start of the Szeged open-air productions. From that time Madách's play has two basic production types: the indoor theatre, which is limited in space and resources, and the monumental open-air theatre. The question of location is of importance, because in the case of the 20th century history of The Tragedy of Man the early dilemma of whether the play can be staged at all still stubbornly persisted. Today, within Hungarian theatre circles the question is not raised as such anymore, however abroad where there is no previous evidence the doubt may occur concerning every new production.
In the Tragedy Madách daringly speaks about the whole universe and presents the entire history of mankind. In this respect he does expand the limits of the traditional theatrical framework. That is why the Szeged location provided an outstanding opportunity for the theatrical life of the work in the 1930s. The buildings in Szeged also raise a number of questions from an architectural viewpoint: a huge, neo-Roman cathedral is found in the centre of the city in the country , with an extreme sized square before it. The overall view of the work, however, is striking for all the arguable points from the view of traditional aesthetics. As a location for possible performances it has also raised a number of objections against it. Among those against the venture in the beginning was Sándor Hevesi, one of the most eminent figures of Hungarian theatre at that time.
The first open-air production of the Tragedy was directed by Ferenc Hont in 1933. As his associate he asked György Buday, a graphic-artist, with whom he had worked with in the Szeged Youth Artistic Workshop. The scenic-designs of the Tragedy reflect Buday's particular graphic style, consisting mainly of rectangles, stressed lines, dashes of colour, and simplified emblem-like elements composing the various images. Compared to the original designs published in several places his conceptions were not fully realized in the production.
At this time Antal Németh, director, who had also influenced György Buday's scenic conceptions, was trying to bring about an open-air production of the Tragedy, with the assistance of János Horváth, in the Verona arena.
Just a few years after the Szeged production György Buday made his series of woodcuts for an illustrated version of The Tragedy of Man. *(Swedish translation, 1936; German translation, 1937)
These illustrations provide a dramatic handling to the dark and light areas of colour, and the concise, ballad-like portrayed scenes emerge from the dark as if a spotlight had been used. To this effect the image of the "Cemetery", where the centrally placed grave is seen as whitely gaping, and from the "Phalansterian" darkness like an island the scientist's laboratory is raised. The possibilities that attracted Buday to the world of the theatre, also inspired him to make the woodcuts: through these popular art forms he can approach society and take part in its formation.
In 1936 three outstanding experts took over the cause of the Tragedy's production in Szeged. They were Miklós Bántfy, Gusztáv Oláh and Zoltán Fülöp, members of three different designer generations, whose cooperation brought about perhaps the most impressive production in the Tragedy's history. The scenery constructed of gigantic steps and horizontal levels may be brought in relation with the dignify of the ancient theatres. The dramatic power effected by the lighting is similar to the famous model made by Norman Bel Geddes for the Divine Comedy. *(1921, Bel Geddes: A Project for a Theatrical Presentation of the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. New York - The Arts Guild, 1924.)
The concept of Geddes due to its publications created quite a reaction, but were never realized. Bánffy's grand vision, however, did take on form in Szeged. The background was taken up by a huge screen onto which according to the changing of the scenes monumentally simple images were projected. Influenced by the environment, they dared to move towards a modern mass theatre. On the posters of the performance they promised the audience "dynamic mass-scenes", "unprecedented musical and lighting effects", "organ-music", and "the most beautiful play of lights".
The history of the Tragedy is followed by a constant critical reproach, that with certain productions the visual element, the spectacle overweighs the effect of the drama. It is natural, however, that Madách's work has inspired a number of directors and designers to create monumental visions. Aurel Milloss, well known choreographer, for example planned to produce a ballet based on The Tragedy of Man. Since the huge stage area in Szeged enables the mediation of dramatic thoughts brought about mainly with powerful and impressive images, that is why these productions usually ventured to base the performance mainly on the visual aspect.
There were a number of indoor productions of the work in the 1930s as well. The 1934 production of the Vienna Burgtheater directed by Hermann Röbbeling and designed by Willi Bahner, presented a suggestive, rich visual expression, which was greeted favourably by the Hungarian critics as well. They made use of a number of innovations in lighting effects and projections, and as an effective idea the phalansterian scenery was imitated by the theatre's own lighting equipment.
The 1937 huge scale production of the Tragedy in the National Theatre (Nemzeti Színház), directed by Antal Németh was the peak of his career. The settings were created by two young designers, János Horváth and Mátyás Varga, who executed the various scenes alternately. The basic element of the scenery is a revolving stage with a simple tower-like construction on it. The production depended mainly on the lighting, which was complemented by projection. The cemetery scene with its danse macabre was the culmination, based on the rotating of the stage and the expressionistic choreography.
The costumes were designed by Teréz Nagyajtay, the first modern costume designer. Earlier, the importance of the costume on the Hungarian stage was neglected in favour of the scenery. Often, the theatre would only have money to finance the setting, and the costumes would have to be added from the supplies. Teréz Nagyajtay and Tivadar Mark were the ones to give this profession prestige in Hungary from the 1920s and 30s onwards, with their extensive oeuvres becoming influential personages of the theatrical community . As a teacher Teréz Nagyajtay was directly and indirectly involved in the educating of a number of later to be eminent costume designers.
In the designs of the 1937 production breaking with the earlier elaborated style Teréz Nagyajtay accentuates the rhythm of line on simple costumes. The diagonals dominate the dress of the crowd fn the Athens scene. Athens is characterized by the strict rhythm of colour and line, whereas Rome by flitting materials and diversity of colour. Two costume-designs by Tivadar Mark from 1936 may be considered as a relatively rare attempt on the Hungarian stage in modifying the natural forms of the human body. With the open-air theatre in mind the costumes of the Egyptian scene as in a variety show enhance and transform the characters with the use of tall head-dresses and wing-like sleeves.
The chamber theatre production of the National Theatre in 1939 was a rare venture in that it was performed with a small cast, with a "literary stage" character. The scenery chosen for the production emphasized this concept. The director had chosen a setting like a medieval altar-piece, which drew attention to the Tragedy's connections with the morality plays and the danse macabre. This interpretation entailed the use of captions and epigraphs. In most cases the scenery made up for the characters: the statues for the archangels, the paintings for the slaves and the phalansterians.
The paintings designed by László Viski Balás were placed within the frame of the altar-piece and so these sketches are halfway between scenery and illustration. This series is an interesting approach to the Tragedy of Man using an artistic language representative of the period and the encouraged artistic trend. Stylistically these pictures are influenced by 20'' century Italian painting, thereby blending the futuristic colour-palette, the metaphysical atmosphere, and a novecento attitude of turning towards the past.
Zoltán Fábri's 1942 design was created for the technically ill equipped country theatres. Various segments of the stage are revealed between the black curtains. The scenery consists of easily and quickly changeable type-platforms, standard stage steps, as well as images painted on hanging canvases and consisting of simple emblem-like pictures, which explain the mental context of the various scenes. For each historical scene the final versions provide a symbolic representation for the individual, and another as a symbol of the crowd: for example Athena for the city of Athens, Bacchus for the city of Rome with the Colosseum. *(The memories of Antal Németh quoted by Tamás Koltai: The Tragedy of Man on Stage. Budapest, 1990, pp. 123-127.)
Following the Second World War the play directed by Béla Both was performed in the National Theatre in 1947. The production's scenery is sober, clarified, and monumental in its asceticism. The devastation caused by war, poverty and the experience of emptiness is present in the production of the Tragedy of Man. This is the last performance of the play before its prohibition for the next seven years, whereby modern scenic-design becomes impossible as well in the following period. "The basic colour used by Both in his production is grey, which is expressed not only in the costumes and the scenery. As if the cool lead from the Phalanster had been spilt onto Heaven, Paradise, Egypt, Athens, Byzantium and London, too" - wrote an eyewitness. *(Béla Mátrai Betegh, Hírlap, 1947, September 28.)
During the performance a greyish light illuminated a complex acting platform, and a tranquil, geometrically simple, grand-scale, plain architectural scenery by Mátyás Varga. The Byzantium structure is especially fascinating, which recalls to a certain extent Kürthy, and at the same time is related with Mátyás Varga's earlier memorable cubist structure of the 1936 Bánk Bán performance. The whole visual appearance of the performance continues with the "severe style" of the classics started by the former director Antal Németh (King Lear, Oedipus, Macbeth). The symbolic use of significant colours for the costumes may be derived from here as well.
The 1955 version performed in the National Theatre was born under the label of socialist realism, and reverts back to the use of older, outdated stylistic trends. This fact is also underlined by the designer Gusztáv Oláh's 1955 sketchbook, which is a lot more historical than his earlier sketchbooks from the first decades of the century . The scenery realized eclectically builds upon Oláh's various earlier works. The historical scenes are presented in a Baroque manner within the framework of the trees of Paradise.
From the end of the 1950s the stage history of the Tragedy is given new impulse, and the direction that scenic-design had been forced to take a decade ago is now spectacularly reverted. In 1960 Tamás Major revives the play for the Szeged Open-Air Theatre with Mátyás Varga's scenic-designs. The use of grandscale steps and system of platform, as well as the projection, is based on the tradition of the Bánffy-Oláh-Fülöp performances. This production Is taken over by the Nemzeti Színház and performed until 1964.
A number of modern, high quality productions are created in the various country theatres as well. The work staged in Győr 1961 by András Baráth provides an harmonious and sober answer for modest circumstances with a pure permanent design, which is similar to the designs executed by Endre Ütő for the 1934 production in Beregszász. *(Beregszász - Beregovo, Ukraine)
In front of a blue curtain on a small stage there is a bright platform with steps, which is complemented by a few signs during the various scenes. The production concentrates on the literary material, and the scenes are presented statically.
In Miskolc, in 1963 Robert Wegenast builds upon a revolving stage various dynamically shaped platforms. During the various historical scenes certain well-known artworks are lowered in the background that recall the period in question: a grave-painting in Egypt, the fresco from the Villa of Mysteries in Rome.
In Veszprém Antal Németh is asked at first to direct the play, and for the planned "staged oratorio" József Cselényi creates a skeleton-type permanent architectural structure. The structure recalls to some extent Gusztáv Oláh's 1926 "mystery-stage" steps leading up on both sides of the stage, which is connected with a bridge, and also builds upon the elements of a Gothic cathedral (glass windows, pointed arches. Similar Hungarian designs establish one of the characteristic directions of the next decades. The architectural structure in Veszprém is complemented by three raised stage levels. The director hereby wishes to present a ceremony in service of the "Madáchian gospel" *(The best of Antal Németh quoted by Tamás Koltai, op cit., p. 265.) Based on this concept the costumes worn by the characters are similar to that of a chasuble, which convey a symbolic message through the traditional meaning of their colours.
The performance in Veszprém is finally staged by György Pethes, director. The simple, poetic setting is designed by József Bakó. Further back the somewhat raised stage encircles the orchestra-like forestage. The decoration of the floor and background is influenced by the contemporary fine arts trend of tachisme and action painting.
Also connected to József Bakó's name is the 1965 Szeged open-air concept, which was developed for László Vámos' direction. For the sake of the visual expression the already huge space was further expanded: in its breadth with the big platforms situated on both sides, as well as vertically as high as the church's towers. The square in front of the church was used for the placing of the crowd-scenes, which were important elements of the production.
During the mid 60s two important productions are born, where an "outsider", a well known visual-artist is asked to design the scenery. The first is the 1964 performance in the Nemzeti Színház, to which Endre Bálint had been asked by the director Tamás Major, and the other is the Kolozsvár State Hungarian Theatre *(Kolozsvár - Cluj-Napoca, Romania) where Jules Perahim plans the designs and costumes for Otto Rappaport's production. This is Endre Bálint's second such venture following a production of Macbeth and Jules Perahim had already taken part in a number of Romanian productions.
Certain aspects of Endre Bálint's designs are connected to the world of his painting, however there are some differences as well. The concept of the director, Tamás Major was that there should be no scenery whatsoever in the traditional sense, that is why those constant surrealist motifs are missing, which are otherwise well known from Bálint's paintings: the angels, devils, window-grills, cemetery symbols etc. The chosen method of scenic-design is therefore quite different from the "pictorial" scene designs of Chagall. The scenery's dry and puritan, clear-cut geometry is unusual, but at the same time the disks floating in the air are familiar from the artist's paintings: the planets, the bushes and trees, reminders of a garden from his past. One may also discover his favourite column motif too, though in a simplified form, without a capital.
From the 1960s Bálint is more and more occupied with the wood as a material the surface of a bare wooden plank, which he embeds in a number of his paintings. This is the main motif of the designs made for the Tragedy, the pattern of the wood being the only accentuated decoration of the various elements. In this way Endre Bálint's particular artistic interest luckily coincided with Tamás Major's concept, who was at the time under the influence of Peter Brook's stage.
The disks, columns, smaller platforms, the steps in the Egyptian scene, the wall of the Byzantine monastery all recall the world of the children's wooden building blocks. Within the scenery the frontal view of the forms is important, due to which this is a essentially a two dimensional composition. In its character Endre Bálint's stage design is similar to György Buday's 1933 work.
The powerful costumes for the production are designed by Nelly Vágó. She makes use of both the stylistic trends of the period's fashion designers, who use the language of pop-art, as well as the leather costumes of the Brook company. Certain details, like the tall headdress of a female figure were familiar from the set designer, Endre Bálint's paintings. Nelly Vágó's costumes are an unusually distinctive element of the stage.
Later as a painter, Endre Bálint has again to do with Imre Madách's drama, since he illustrates the 1972 publication of the Tragedy of Man. The colourfulness of the various scenes represent again a different world from the earlier designs. Those designs were made in black and white with an emphasis on the geometrical structure. Now, the dominant colours are gold, fine blue, pink, spectacular reds, and the shades of purple. As a source Bálint refers to the other layers of his art: he goes back to the playful and naive paper-cuttings resembling angels, and the simple decorating motifs, to the memory of his childhood's amusement park with figures in the showman's tent in the London scene, and to his Bible illustrations in portraying the characters. There are only a few details that refer to the 1964 scenery, perhaps the columns of Athens, the planets, the Byzantine castle or the geometric structure of the Prague scene.
Jules Perahim created scenic-designs for the stage both in the constructivist and the surrealist style. In the case of the Tragedy of Man he made use of the strict geometric forms just like Endre Bálint. The acting-space that he established consisted of two disks with identical central points onto which steps were built. The disks could rotate in the opposite direction, this way a permanently changing space could be established. This Kolozsvár production was performed in Budapest in 1968, and the critics esteemed the success being considerably due to the scenery.
In the second half of the 60s Aurél Koch made a design based on Antal Németh's instructions, which was not realized. The proposed scenery in its ground-plan reduces the stage of the Madách play to the final symbolic geometric forms, that is the circle and the triangle.
After the earlier economical scenery in Győr by András Baráth, he created a new large-scale seating based on optical illusion. On the dark surface of the raised section of the stage the bright lines strive to reach one vanishing point, and in the Egyptian scene the decorating elements with the powerful horizontal red stripes are reflected in concave metal sheets, thereby expanding the space in all directions.
One of the main scenic-motives of the Madách Theatre's 1981 production also strives for a perspective effect. This is the bridge made of long wooden planks running from the interior of the stage towards the audience. Similar parallel planks joined at various angles form the complicated figures being lowered from above the stage. These figures serve as projecting surfaces. With the motion of the planks, however, a distorted image is achieved, which is extremely effective in the case of the Byzantine Christ-icon. The scenery is designed by Miklós Fehér for György Lengyel.
In Szolnok István Paál stages a production of the play, the artistic director of the earlier legendary productions of the Szeged University Theatre. He aims at concentrating on the drama's philosophical content. The wish for a highly intensive, concentrated version is also suggested by the fact that he wishes to involve only ten actors in making the production. He wants to create a closed, abstract acting space, which would focus the attention on the characters. He constructs the Szolnok scenery with the help of György Varga the basic functional elements consisting oh a central court, niches of an arcade and steps leading to a raised level. This architectural construction however is far from being neutral. The arcaded building skeletons and the sacral centre with the rose window emerge - as a vision - from the elements of the Szeged Cathedral square, used as symbols. These motives at once recall the most significant memories and traditions of the Tragedy's performances and the director's own past. The particular ritual, that takes place within this area, mainly addresses István Paál's own generation, the earlier university youth of '68, thereby giving expression to their experiences and philosophy.
Three years later József Ruszt directs his own Tragedy for the inauguration of the new Zalaegerszeg Theatre building. Based on his concept the play is presented by the phalansterian inhabitants, "according to Mr. Lucifer's instructions". Behind the narrow fore-stage Robert Menczel designs onto the stage area a slightly raised bare scaffolding, which creates a two compact storeys for the characters. With the use of white textile columns he emphasizes verticality. For many the scenery recalls Sándor Hevesi's 1926 "mystery stage". The area of the Zalaegerszeg scenery is "filled up" with Thonet chairs and clothes-racks. God is presented in a bishop's chasuble and celebrates Mass, and the active hero is the intellectual Lucifer wearing a hat and a trenchcoat. Adam's personality is multiplied.
The same year László Vámos directs a more traditional version for the Szeged Open-Air theatre and the National Theatre. Árpád Csányi's countless design-variations recall, as often in the history of the Tragedy, the old masters such as Fra Angelico and Bosch.
The vital changes that took place in the country in 1989 increased an interest in the Tragedy that examines the sense and possibilities of human existence and action. Due to this a number of influential theatre productions and scenic-designs were created.
László Székely's 1993 Komárom scaffolding expresses the order and system of the mystery plays and the medieval altars in an ultimately simplified form.
György Lengyel directs the play twice during the nineties. The 1992 production in Pécs focuses on the spectacle, and for inspiration goes back to the 1910s and 20s, which discovered and made the most of the visual possibilities. János Mira constructs his scenery on a revolving stage made up of plat forms, steps and slopes. The handling of the light is expressive: the trees in Paradise are indicated by beams, coloured spotlights and smoke creating machines have an important role. God's gigantic cloak which covers the whole stage, may be interpreted as a Craig quotation. The masks of the crowd also recall the theatre of the first decades.
For the director's next Debrecen 1996 production Attila Dávid creates an arena stage. The central inclined acting space is encircled by a two-storey structure, onto which the steps of the auditorium are built. The characters use the various elevated storeys and the arches of the arcades, so that the audience can actually feel as if they were in the middle of the acting space. The masks have an important role in this ceremonial type production too, dust as the music and the choreography.
In Kolozsvár according to Imre Csiszár's conception the play is performed by country amateur actors in 1 860, the year the work was written. Based on this Brechtian idea the set is an open courtyard of a peasant-house encircled by sheds and porches, with a huge double winged gate in the middle, and the acting area is furnished with simple folk furniture, which could have been made by the peasant-actors.
The Miskolc production evolves from the London scene, identified with the present time. Contrary to the size of the chamber theatre the scenery consists of the full equipment: uses a revolving stage, scaffolding system, and a background structure from the fragments of the various architectural styles. The Budapest Várszínház (Castle Theatre) production takes place within a grey, massive setting that enables on several levels and with the help of mobile elements the movement of the actors. The background is framed by a rounded arch, its shape reminiscent of altar paintings. In the various scenes this structure provides a basis for the projections.
In reviewing these works of art of a century, which have been inspired by the Tragedy of Man, and have served it, a characteristic cross-section of the Hungarian scenic-design emerges. In the history of Hungarian theatre directors have turned to the powerful work of Madách inevitably, in order to give expression to those important, basic problems and questions that have occupied their thoughts. These thoughts were expressed and visualized through sceneries, to preserve for future generations the director's conception. The relation to the words of the drama reflects two basic tendencies. There were productions based on the concept of faithfully analyzing, interpreting and expressing all the thoughts of the playwright and its work. Though both the director of the stage, and the illustrator of the book could choose the way to establishing an independent artistic world based on the inspiration of Madách.
(Published in Scene by Scene, Bp. 1999. p. 11-22.)
Exhibition of Imre Madách's Drama Reflected in Illustrations and Translations