We chose this sentence of Sophocles as the motto for the 2018 MITEM as we believe it to best encompass what the international theatre festival of the National Theatre will be about this coming spring.
They say that despite obvious warning signs, in times of peace people would stick to their usual routine until the very last moment. As unsuspecting as King Oedipus, who believed he could avoid his predicted fate. As clueless, as Pinocchio in the jungle of a world full of lies. As oblivious to danger as Gruse, the Georgian maid who saves the child of the governor. But what is the message of these tales to our present?
For the fifth edition of the Madách Imre International Theatre Meeting (MITEM) who have elected to invite productions of powerful drama that could be instrumental in having a clearer picture of the world around and before us, possibly also helpful in our future decisions.
For us theatre people and all others, here at the National Theatre we are in the midst of the 5th MITEM. We are again hosts to the world, but who is truly the host and who is the guest here? This conjures a mental image: a gate standing alone in a barren landscape, without a house or walls. It is not clear whether passing through that gate we will step out of or into nothing. But for the singular moment of standing in the gateway, this nothing concentrated in the shortest of times will bring about the act itself of stepping out of, or rather into...
I believe this festival is a portal leading somewhere.
Becoming an act – this psychological expression describing an emotional moment turned into involuntary action is used in describing the Violence(s) production of the Tunisian National Theatre. “Where does all the action come from? Does it stem from some obscure pattern from the mythological and archaic depths? Are perhaps today’s Cains and Abels some persistent reincarnations from the dawn of time?” Browsing through the offers of this year’s MITEM brings flashbacks of recent history. Looking at the landscape from the perch of ideas and poetry, then descending into the here. Suddenly it seems that history is happening now and we are parts of it to the extent our ideals are transformed into action. But are we doomed for movement or is it a blessing?
The Revolution of the body, the performance of the Toneelhius theatre of Antwerpen is clearly a celebration of action and movement, while the Oedipus performed by the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre sees it as a curse. The migrants portrayed in the performance of the Székelyudvarhely Tomcsa Sándor Theatre migrate from home to the homeland, whereas the old clowns of Theater an der Ruhr from Mülheim are not quite sure whether their roving circus is the host or the guest in a foreign country. Then again, why does Oskar, the eternal child playing his drum in The Tin Drum shown by Berliner Ensemble believe that the unutterable can be expressed in drumbeats, while the Ivanov of the Croatian National Theatre is “a reluctant Hamlet, a hypocrite Tartuffe and disillusioned Oblomov rolled into one?” Is character and any behaviour consistent with it the action itself, or just the prelude for action? The Alice we see in the Wonderland of the Tamási Áron Theatre of Sepsiszentgyörgy crosses into another domain while experiencing the traumatic changes of her own body as an initiation. Is the curse or the blessing of action? Certainly a blessing, says Pinocchio in the play of Milan’s Piccolo Teatro, and his nose grows another tiny bit. It seems that lying is indeed the path to becoming a flesh-and-blood human being. A curse! – scream the ancient warriors in the Iliad by the Ljubljana National Theatre, since “every battle converges into a single one and the victims become one universal victim”. Is this not the opposite of action? Destructive action can only bring about destruction. The same fate seems to haunt Boris Davidovich, who makes an account of his life defined by revolutions from his inexistent tomb as shown by the Novi Sad Theatre.
It seems that the awkward expressions of our greatest deeds are more than just a mirage: they are moments of living history captured by theatrical means. Whether they are dance sequences, smiles of unuttered words or the steps of migrating masses, it is certain that they all are the fleeting essence of eternal ideals. As is this latest meeting, which brings together companies, theatres – and worlds.