By Agota Kristof. Stage adaptation by Erick Aufderheyde
Translated by Mária Ignjatovic
Co-production of Forte Company and Szkéné Theatre
Première February 15, 2013
Running time 2 hours. No interval.
WHAT I SAW
At the top of the show, there are vegetables strewn about the stage. Green pumpkins are most prominent. Stage left, piles and piles of bagged potatoes. Two young, small men are playing with the pumpkins, flipping around on them, balancing on them, while a man with a bag of potatoes on his head crouches menacingly upstage. We soon learn these two young men are our protagonists and narrators, two young twin boys sent to live with their grandmother (the hulking potato-faced croucher) in the country, where, their mother hopes, they will be safer than in Budapest. We are in the middle of World War II.
Csaba Horvath’s adaptation of the novel The Notebook by Agota Kristoff remains true to the plot of the novel, and I believe pulls text directly from it as well, so the ensemble of 6 narrate the boys’ actions and experiences as well as enact them. The story follows these two young boys as they adjust to life in the country with their harsh, uncompromising grandmother, who makes them sleep on a bench outside, beats them regularly, and puts them to work. The boys decide that in order to survive, they must train themselves to be masters of pain –- physical and emotional. They take turns beating one another repeatedly,stick their hands in fire until they can do so without flinching, they speak the loving words their mother offered them until those words no longer have meaning for them, and more. They practice thinking and writing without emotion; for them, the world is described and experienced objectively. This training pays off: the boys begin to demand what they need from their grandmother, help the few friends they’ve made in this small town (namely a young girl named Harelip, who is disfigured, ill and strange) and dole out retribution for injustice as they see fit. The horrors of war on the edges of this tale ultimately bear down on the town near the end of the piece, when there is an accumulation of devastation: the boys discover and explore a concentration camp filled with burned bodies and bones, they watch as their mother is destroyed by a grenade, their friend Harelip is raped and murdered by the “liberators” occupying the town, and, after a time, their grandmother has a stroke and they, at her behest, kill her.
Set to a beautiful, wrenching score of violin music composed and performed by Hungarian folk musician Csaba Ökrös, this piece is presented through two main elements: bodies and food. There is no additional set to speak of, and the majority of the action of the play is represented through action that has no realistic relation to the action of the story, but gets at the truth of the action in some other way. For example, when, in the story, the boys wrung the neck of a chicken, they each stuck a knife into a head of lettuce. When in the story the twins spent a day standing outside without moving, speaking, or eating, the actors balanced themselves on a pumpkin—a challenging feat that took a great amount of focus and control, as the twins’ act would have done as well.
As the piece progresses and we witness the aforementioned accumulation of devastation, the stage gets progressively messier, and the food combined with the sweat of the actors produces a smell that grows ever more pungent over time. We are left with a strong metaphor, a fully physicalized “vision [of] a ruthless world, the terrors of war and the times that follow” (as the festival program describes The Notebook) on the stage, in our nostrils, and burned into our brains.
NUTS AND BOLTS
Cast size and detail: 8 (6M, 2F, includes musician)
Touring Size: Cast of 8, 1 technician, 1 escort (10 total)
Minimum height/width/depth of stage: 10m, 10m, 8m
Maximum height/width/depth of stage: 12m, 12m, 12m
Load in time: 7 hours
Strike time: 1 hour
Props provided by Venue
16 x 15 kg potato (in red sack), 16 x 20 kg potato (in red sack), 8 packets of macaroni, 1 packet of lasagna, 2 beetroots, 4 leeks, 8 pcs of red cabbage, 2 pcs of white cabbage, 2 carrots, 1 onion, 1 cherry tomato, 1 savoy cabbage, 12 red paprika, 30 pcs of green pumpkin (can be replaced with fake pumpkins if necessary provided by Company), 4 kg bread flour (for making dough), 1 bottle of sunflower oil, 2 rolling pins, 2 pastry boards, 3 packets of dried yeast, 1 packet of small size pasta packed in plastic (used as an instrument), 1 chili, eggs
black board/wall for throwing potatos, cleaning staff before and after the performance
To be transported: Big black caldron, Accordion, Violin, Costumes , Plastic bowls , 2 sweeping brooms
May 27th 2013 - TESZT Fesztival, Timisoara (Romania)
March 14th 2014 - Szene Ungarn, Burgtheater, Vienna (Austria)
October 8th 2014 - Dimitria Festival, Thessaloniki (Greece)
October 9th 2014 - Dimitria Festival, Thessaloniki (Greece)
October 22nd 2014 - Demoludy Festival, Olsztyn (Poland)
December 2nd 2014 - Desiré Festival, Subotica (Serbia)
December 8th 2014 – Thalia Evenings, Košice (Slovakia)
May 20th 2015 - Arad (Romania)
October 18th 2015 - Maribor Theatre Festival (Slovenia)
Translation Options: English subtitles available
Representation: Judit Számel, +36 30 496 4664
The Future: November 29th - Sfântu Gheorghe (Romania); December 10th - II. Hungarian Contemporary Dance Festival in Berlin (Germany)
For additional information about future productions of The Notebook, please contact Judit Számel, +36 30 496 4664
Availability: The Notebook is available for touring for the foreseeable future.
Director: Csaba Horváth
After graduating from the Hungarian Dance Academy as a folk dancer (1983‑87), Horváth joined the Honvéd Együttes in 1987 as solo dancer. Since 1995 he has danced in Tranzdanz and the theatre Sámán Színház. His first choreography was Duhaj (Reveller) – in which he also performed as a dancer – for which he won the Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 1998, and the Veszprém All-arts Festival’s performer’s award. Between 2000 and 2005, Horváth worked as choreographer, then artistic director of the Közép Európa Táncszínház (Central Europe Dance Theatre); in the meantime he also graduated as choreographer from Színház- és Filmművészeti Egyetem (University of Drama, Film and Television). Until 2008 he worked as director of dance at the Debreceni Csokonai Színház. In 2005 he founded his own company, Forte. Horváth is regularly invited abroad: he ran courses at Harvard in Boston, was a visiting choreographer of the American Repertory Theatre and has collaborated with János Szász and Min Tanaka. In 2008, he choreographed Medeia for Anatoly Vasilyev at the Epidauros Festival in Greece.
Theatre: Forte Company and Szkéné Theatre
WRITINGS AND REVIEWS
REFLECTIONS BY KELLIE
A Note: This production was featured in the Festival's International Showcase, entitled Bridges. It hails from Hungary. I felt this to be an important production and as such, decided to include it in this round of DISPTATCHES, However, due to time and the need to prioritize Slovenian work, for this reflection, I rely heavily on a review by Andrew Haydon to support my thoughts.
The Notebook is a corporeal, beautiful, demanding, athletic production that uses a theatrical language, at once unique to its creators and intrinsically connected to its source material in order to tell a horrific, yet human tale. I will begin by sharing some reflections by Andrew Haydon, with which I agree.
Haydon begins by saying, “Running at two and a half hours without interval, it completely immerses you in the lives of its pre-/pubescent twin boys, living with their grandmother throughout WWII in Nazi-occupied Hungary. Perhaps the highest compliment possible is that it doesn’t feel a second longer than 90 minutes.”
He later states, “The sheer athleticism and brutality of “dancing” (although not always *dancing*) would probably be sufficient to hold the attention for close on the running time of this piece, even if there wasn’t a story. As simply one element in service of a much bigger picture it’s strikingly better than any previous example I can think of.”
About performances, he says, “Csaba Krisztik and Norbert Nagy as the twins manage to mine the essence of childhood without once resorting to *pretending to be ten*, instead applying the boy’s worldly-but-innocent logic implacably with just the right mixture of chilling and heartbreaking, while around them the ensemble of Máté Andrássy (male) as the Grandmother, Katalin Simkó as most of the other women in the story, József Kádas as all the men, and Borbála Blaskó as the girl with the hare-lip, are all continually flawless in their energy and conviction. They are just exciting to watch as a unit, quite before the excellence of the source material comes into play.”
In addition he mentions that “What’s impressive about the whole is the extent to which it is successful in completely evoking an imagined rural Eastern Europe … and indeed in bringing its myriad inhabitants to life – always clearly distinct and delineated, but mercifully never cartoonish or grotesque [for] the sake of it…each player in the story, no matter how grim their crimes, is also afforded the sort of quiet dignity that people do want for themselves, even if they are a young women offering herself sexually to a dog, a sexually abusive pastor, or a Nazi with a dangerous fetish for being whipped.”
I will add only what I alluded to in my description of the production and at the beginning of this essay, that through the use of food and a physical language, Horvath and the performers found a way to tell this story that was corporeal, organic, and inherently theatrical. To offer another example, there is a moment in which a soldier interrogates the boys about violence against a woman they know. The soldier beats the boys excessively, but they do not break or confess. In the production, the boys stand against a wall and the soldier throws potatoes at it: each time, the potato makes a deafening thud, dents the wall, and breaks into pieces. The actors are never touched, but the intensity and brutality of the action is explicit, and as an audience member, I felt it deeply. I flinched each time a potato hit the wall, I felt each collision in my gut and understood it to be a hand or a weapon beating a young body. I wanted it to stop long before it actually did.
All such choices in this production have this kind of precision and specificity to them, offering access to the truths The Notebook unveils in a way only theater can, in a way that is immediate, honest, and human. Horvath understands the language of theater, knows how to unlock its potential to profound ends. He is a master of his craft, and The Notebook is a testament to this.