Last night, Kelly and I went with Adri to see Romeo és Julia, the Hungarian version of Romeo and Juliet as a musical. And yes, the musical was in Hungarian.
Anyway, it was a fantastic performance that I really did thoroughly enjoy. The theater itself, Budapest’s Operetta Theatre, was small and homey, with lovely gold filigree in the ceiling and soft, red plush seats. We were on the second mezzanine, but the view was lovely and the acoustics in the building were surprisingly good — sound traveled well, but the harsher tones of the sound were absorbed by all of the soft chairs, leaving nothing but a pleasant performance.
On another note, I would like to congratulate both the orchestra and the actors for actually performing. I have been to similar shows in the past in which the orchestra is either pre-recorded or the actors themselves are not really singing, only lip-syncing. We watched the enthusiastic conductor guide the orchestra, and when Romeo dashed around the stage and ran out of breath, I could hear it in his singing.
As I’m sure you can guess, we weren’t allowed to take pictures, so I’ve got nothing to show you. Still, I have a lot to say about the show itself. It was unique twist on Romeo and Juliet, keeping the original feel and tone while innovating in interesting ways. The first half of the show was filled with humor and slapstick, but the second half was distinctly somber and more focused. However, the change in mood did not seem forced, and was actually much appreciated.
The atmosphere on the stage was impressive, especially for a smaller theater. There were many unique backdrops, and the rotating concentric rings of the stage were used very effectively. Fog machines were used with taste, not just because everything looks cooler with fog. This, of course, led to a wonderful ploy in which the fog and the rotating stage were used together to hide one of the important props until the end of the play — audience members watched the prop being installed, but hiding it in the fog made them forget it was there until it came back forcefully at the end. The lights were used skillfully, very effectively imitating times of day or, when someone was passing out or confused, psychedelically spinning to add to the tone of the scene. Rather than accentuating the setting, the light show was used to give a glimpse into the minds of the characters, which was something I have never really seen before.
Speaking of other things I have never seen before, this was also the first play in which I saw a slow motion scene, and it was phenomenal. I don’t know how long they had to practice, but I know for sure that I can’t dramatically have myself flung backwards in slow motion. There were some half-way positions they were standing in that seemed gravitationally impossible. I was thoroughly impressed.
The ending to the play was quite different than Shakespeare’s original, but given the deviant nature of the play already, it was something I was expecting. Based on the atmosphere of the musical itself, the new ending was not at all out of place, although it may still jar many die-hard fans of Shakespeare.
Come to think of it, many of the shocking aspects of the play were not at all out of place. I have noticed throughout my entire stay in Hungary that people are much more willing than in the United States to publicly display affection (kissing, cuddling, groping, etc), and Romeo és Julia was no exception. One scene in particular, while not “inappropriate” per se, would never have been allowed on American stages for what many Americans would call “offensiveness.” This rendering of Romeo and Juliet was much more lusty than others I have seen or read, but culturally I could expect nothing less, nor would I want to.
The outfits and stylizing of the characters were also quite deviant from the original Shakespeare, but once again, given the nature of the musical itself and how it has been rendered in this foreign country, the seemingly out-of-place costumes and makeup fit in well. For example, Benvolio had silver, spiked hair. And when I say spiked, I don’t mean those tiny little spikes that guys do with a bit of hair gel. I mean his-head-looked-like-the-ball-of-a-medieval-mace hairstyle. Shocking? Of course. Fitting? In this play, yes. [picture courtesy of Mészáros Árpád Zsolt, the actor]
Kelly commented that many of the outfits seemed almost steam-punk in style, and I would have to agree with her. That was a very apt way of putting it. Once again, though, they did not seem out of place.
The only character that I feel stayed traditional was Tybalt — thank goodness, he’s my favorite anyway. His outfit was conservative and medieval, his hair was typical “Tybaltish” — I notice that most plays or movies render him with longer hair, as this play did. Overall, his performance was one of the most impressive for me. His voice was good and strong, and his character developed thoroughly without the use of exposition. Rather, change was noticeable in him throughout the play based on his actions — they didn’t need to tell people he was scary. He’ll show you. No need to explain that he’s frustrated by the burden of responsibility he feels his parents have left him. He’ll expertly act that out in a fit. [photo courtesy of romeoetjuliettfans]
So to you, Tybalt, I give the Character Who Didn’t Have Enough Lines or Stage Time Award.
Now, for the Most Surprising Character Award, there is no contest. The Friar Lawrence was outstanding. He walks out and you’re thinking, “Yeah, what’s up with this raggedy old guy?” Then he belts out this amazing, clear voice and acts more convincingly than half of the rest of the cast. When he was onstage, no matter what he was doing, he usurped the show for me.
Most Misunderstood Character goes to Juliet’s Nurse. She is painted in numerous lights throughout the play and, to an extent, she proves all of them true. However, she is a very deep character who grows on viewers the longer they watch. I was pleasantly surprised by her performance.
So, I did learn a couple of unique things about Hungarian theater. First of all, that everyone claps after every song, which was a refreshing contrast to the typical American way of doing things. Second, everyone claps in a synchronized fashion. No, seriously. Two thousand people were clapping at the same rhythm. And it wasn’t a fluke, it kept happening over and over and over. Why did it keep happening? Because of the other thing I learned about Hungarian theater — that the actors come out like twenty times at the end of the show.
Seriously, though. They came out one by one in front of the curtain and received individual applause. Then, they all lined up in front of the curtain and took a group bow. Then the curtain was raised and they came out individually again. Then they got in line and filtered off one by one again. And then they came back on again. And then they went off again. And then the larger curtain came down. And then a random door appeared in the curtain (no kidding) and they came out one by one again. And then they did individual applause again. And then they lined up again. And then they left one by one again. And then it was over.