All images by Judit Horvath
Katona József Theatre
Conceived and directed by Béla Pintér
Performed by: Judit Rezes, Ervin Nagy, Adél Jordán, Zoltán Bezerédi, Anna Pálmai Ferenc Elek, Zoltán Rajkai
What I Saw
This performance took place during the festival in December 2016, only one month after the 2016 presidential election in America. Therefore, any piece about a recently elected politician would draw comparisons, but Pintér’s work creates a particularly troubling picture of the comingling of modern celebrity and policy.
The operatic musical work contains a recently elected mayor who loves the media – in fact, the news reporters and photographers act as the ensemble of the play. He is giving accolades to a champion female wrestler – but little does he know, she is having an affair with his unhappy wife. Though the politician is having an affair of his own, the intrigue and jealousy bubbles over into a public corruption frenzy.
This was Pintér’s first work at an established theatre, rather than by his independent troupe. He adapts to a large stage quite well, filling the starry-eyed backdrop with spectacular performances and staging that frames a meaningful tale. As in many of his works, Pintér highlights corruption and moral depravity in his characters, who are brought down by their lies. When one performs everything for the cameras, there is little affection behind the picture-perfect life depicted. So it goes for the mayor, who eerily resembles an increasing number of celebrity candidates worldwide to seek office.
In The Champion, shocking revelations happen so often that their value starts to wane. True vulgarity has become utterly unremarkable for political figures. Perhaps Pintér is making a commentary on the changes that have swept through our society more broadly. After all, the ruling class have been having affairs for thousands of years. But once commanded to maintain a connection to godliness, in order to maintain order over the common folk, their hedonism was hidden. Similarly, the glamour of movie stars has turned to the base appeal of reality television. The more these worlds merge, the mirror turns not on the value of the political leader but rather on us, the spectators, on our desire to hear out salaciousness and folly.
Nuts and Bolts
Company Name: Katona Jozsef Theatre
Premiere: 19. March, 2016
Running time: 75 minutes without a break
Performed in Hungarian with English subtitles
Set design: Zsolt Khell
Costume design: Mari Benedek
Music: Gizi Bagó, Bea Berecz
Musical director: Kéménczy Antal
Pianino: Antal Kéménczy, Balázs Futó
Dramaturg: Éva Enyedi
Assistant: Réka Budavaári
Directed by: Béla Pintér
Cast Size: 7
Touring Size: 17 total
Translation options: Subtitles
Touring history: None - performed in repertory at the theatre
Representation: Eszter Uri
Tel: +36 30 692 44 52
Synopsis: The Champion, mixing the tradition of folk theatre with the tools of opera, is both lewd and true, Hungarian, elaborating on a tabloid subject, political and love story, which presents the so-called ‘small Hungarian reality’, laden with repressed secrets. Inspired by Puccini, Pintér wrote an entirely new story. He tells a story of a small-town mayor’s tumultuous love life, featuring the amorous attraction of two women, a politician’s wife and a successful sportswoman. There is a relationship which can be sacrificed, which becomes the prey of duty. A fictive town, Verőcsény, is organizing elections for the mayor’s position, which is won a fourth time by Attila. After the long election day an illustrious company gathers at the house of the mayor, his wife, his campaign leader, a local TV crew and the Olympic medalist sportswoman come to celebrate. But soon enough, the true relations start to surface. Pinter stages characteristic rural figures, rotten to the core, a political elite drowning in its own lies, who, as usual in the plays by Pintér, submerge deeper and deeper in their own excrements. For Pintér’s topical performance the tabloid story is just a pretext, as he follows his own artistic rules, creating real dramatic situations, conflicts, true human characters in this enclosed environment. He shows us a tableaux of the public life of politicians, where the decent family life is just a front. Pintér’s contemporary and shockingly innovative piece has met the real gossips of political life, stirring up a sizeable scandal. The show also does not shy away from the compassionate portrayal of tragic, truly human situations.
Through the company of Katona József Theatre Pintér speaks the same language we expect him to, the same level of sarcasm and complex layering. The clash between the vulgar content and the majestic music is a constant source of humour. On the other hand, the shocking moments of the performance are rendered more approachable through the everyday language, the dialogue, the gestures become are natural and the drama becomes truly visceral. The meeting between Puccini and Pintér takes the shape of a specific recitativo, with only an upright piano to accompany the performers, which gives a specific niche flavour to the show.
"The new premier of Béla Pintér, first time working outside his independent company, now in the repertory theater Katona József created a musical performance with a small cast. Based on Puccini’s Il tabarro, a love triangle gives the plot. Put into the Hungarian provinces the Italian owner of the barge becomes a mayor of a town, now winning for the 4th time the local elections. It is the eve of this triumph, which he celebrates at home with his wife, and a kickboxer woman champion, mutually being supported by the mayor and her supporting the mayor. The media visits the tired mayor at home, and puts fake, propaganda like questions – a
great inspiration source could have been for Pintér not only the actual public media, but alegendary interview with president Pál Schmitt in 2012 concerning his plagiarized doctorate degree."
Bela Pinter: During the past 17 years Béla Pintér, who started his career as an actor, wrote and directed 21 plays with his internationally acclaimed company. Even though the composition of his troupe is in constant change, they play all of their pieces on the repertory in the original form and with the original cast. Until now Pintér has not worked in any theatre other than his. The performance titled The Champion, based on Puccini’s The Cloak, at the renowned Katona József Theatre, is his first work at an established theatre, not performed by Pintér’s regular troupe. An exceptional occasion, an exceptional work.