Macbeth @ Hungarian Theatre, Budapest, Hungary, 2014Tragedy

  • Zsolt Almási
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Evil is all around us!

Reviewed by Zsolt Almási


Ádám Horgas’s Macbeth[1] in the Hungarian Theatre, Budapest provides a thorough theatrical representation of the overwhelming power of evil. In this production all the smallest details line up into a coherent unity exploring magically how fragile human virtue is, how seductive evil can be. The exploration of these suffocating and irresolvable topics is rendered into a theatrical performance that seduces all our senses with its picturesque staging, ritualistic songs, up-to-the-point translation that was commissioned for this production, made by Géza Kállay, a well-known Shakespeare scholar.

10850151_383115225203199_2348863518182815050_nÁdám Horgas set the action in a modern context, in a Scotland that is nothing but a slaughter-house for the bloodthirsty and the power hungry, which is at the same time an asylum for the mad. In this slaughter- or madhouse Horgas has deployed a variety of multimedial effects, news footages, YouTube-like videos, characters texting and receiving text messages, songs and dances on a rather barren symbolic stage. One of the central symbolic props of the stage is the multifunctional bed, table, stage or desk. This multifunctional object serves as a love-bed for the Macbeths in an unexpected vertical positioning, Lady Duncan’s deathbed, as a stage where speeches are delivered, a stage for a magical song, for the throne, a table for the banquette, a desk where the equipment is placed to kill the Macduff family, a deathbed again vertically for Lady Macbeth. Similarly symbolic are the hospital privacy screens that patients carry here and there to shape space on the stage, to hide characters’ exits and entrances; that they use as canvases to maniacally draw random lines on, which lines will make a powerful drawing at the end of the play. Both these symbolic props provide spatial unity and continuity, signifying that evil is always present, even in the most festive or private moments, its shape may change, and yet it is always the same. This visionary and imaginative staging is nicely accompanied by a meticulously selected cast.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth form a fascinating couple. Their love towards each other seems perfect at the beginning and shifts to complete alienation in the vertically positioned bed. They start their onstage 1509754_380687145446007_7888973284363087842_npresence making love and borrowing Romeo’s and Juliet’s lines when discussing whether the bird’s song they heard was that of the lark or the nightingale. Their alienation is represented when still the two of them are in the same bed, but Macbeth is texting. The process of alienation ends with Lady Macbeth struggling with her conscience alone. Béla Pavletits as Macbeth is powerful, sometimes gullible, he is someone who is interested in the game of becoming the king, acrobatic occasionally but somewhat shy in his speeches. The poetry and grace of Macbeth’s speeches do not really shine through his performance. Móni Balsai as Lady Macbeth is bright, playful at the beginning and without the “Come, you Spirits”-speech she is more innocent than other Lady Macbeths, especially because she is pregnant in this production. It is not so much her determination and her attempts to blackmail her husband into the regicide that cajole Macbeth into killing Lady Duncan but rather her beauty, her smile, her unconditional devotion to Macbeth. Her “sleepwalking” scene merges with her suicide and becomes the most touching scene of the performance. She stays in her vertically positioned bed, uncombed and distracted, subconsciously and outwardly suffering for her deeds. It is not only the inner and outer torment that wins the compassion of the audience but also the gloves she is wearing at this scene, gloves that are identical with the ones the witch wore in the previous scenes, indicating that the cause of her wrongdoing and present suffering originates from the overwhelming power of evil.

1450926_379141428933912_1889278410616195021_nThe omnipresent evil on the stage is impersonated by a charismatic young actress, Katalin Ágoston. First and foremost she impersonates the three witches as an institutionalized schizophrenic patient, dressed up in a white hospital gown, with a horrifying mask that covers half of her face, and her long black and red gloves that function as the other sides of her personality. Second, she acts out the role of the Porter really becoming the Porter of Hell-gate, and also a diva singing during the banquette scene. Furthermore she is there in Macbeth’s dreams, and the play ends with the happy winners, Macbeth’s corpse but in the background Ágoston towers above them in her white hospital gown on a high ladder. In each of these roles, Ágoston speaks in a different voice with different body language and posture. She is frightening as a mentally schizophrenic patient, her voice is terrifyingly croaky and guttural when showing the masked half of her face to the audience, strident as the porter, thin and unpleasantly high-pitched when she speaks as the bloody child, warm and smoky when singing. She is frightening in her white gown, elegantly hot in her red and black clothes, crooked as the porter. She is just brilliantly many-sided, cajoling, erotic and petrifying, like evil itself.

So, evil is all around in this performance. It is there in the imaginative, visionary and symbolic stage and stagecraft, and the suffocatingly gloomy auditorium. Evil is powerfully represented by actors and 10393981_381407442040644_2840695807108122294_nactresses. It is there in the music and visual effects, in the different media. And all these are cast in such a harmony that one can hardly avoid loving it. So when claiming that evil is all around in this production, I also imply that love is all around in the auditorium, luring the audience into wishing to experience this very evil again and again.



[1] William Shakespeare. Macbeth, directed, composed and choreographed by Ádám Horgas, translated by Géza Kállay, designed by Péter Horgas, costumes by Nóra Bujdosó. Cast: Béla Pavlevits (Macbeth), Móni Balsai (Lady Macbeth), Katalin Ágoston (Witch etc.), Csaba Jegercsik (Banquo). The photos in this review were taken by Csaba Mészáros, and can be downloaded from

Zsolt Almási

Author: Zsolt Almási

Zsolt Almási is associate professor in the Institute of English and American Studies, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary. His recent book is The Problematics of Custom as Exemplified in Key Texts of the Late English Renaissance (Lewiston-Queenston-Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2004). He is the co-editor of e-Colloquia: 16th- Century English Culture ( Pázmány University Electronic Press – Budapest: ISSN 1785-6515), and was co-editor of Writing the Other: Humanism versus Barbarism in Tudor England with Mike Pincombe (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008) and New Perspectives on Tudor Cultures (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012). His current research projects focus on Shakespeare and web 2.0.