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1095 Budapest, Bajor Gizi park 1. +361/476-6800
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NATIONAL THEATRE: Who is behind the name: the Madhouse Theatre Company? MIKE KELLY: The Madhouse Theatre Company consists of Jon Fenner, Matt Devere and myself, Mike Kelly. The three of us are very close friends, first met at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts at Kensington, in London. It is one of the UK’s foremost drama academies. It is very hard to get in, but fortunately we all did. So we had 3 years together there, and obviously we acted a lot together. We had a very high regard for each other’s acting abilities already in college. In the meantime I had established contact with the Merlin Theatre in Budapest, namely with László Magács and Tamás Jordán. Therefore I was coming quite frequently to do short runs of English language plays. NT: How did you get in touch with the Merlin? MK: I came here as a student in 1991. I was studying Central-Eastern European studies at London University. The first term of my third year they sent us to the Közgáz for an exchange program. For some reason I decided to do a small Harold Pinter play here in Budapest with students. So I just put a few notices out and suddenly I had a cast of 12 people, and we did this play which included poetry from János Pilinszky in Hungarian and English. So I developed an interest in drama. And we went to László Magács to get some costumes. He was very helpful, and we got this venue at one of the student hostels. Then I started to do some more amateur plays at the Merlin. So I decided in 1994 that I would try to take it up as a professional. I went to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and I was offered a place. If I did not get my place at the drama school I would be living here since. I stayed in London for another two years after school and finally I moved back here. Here was the opportunity to work with two close friends, which we just simply could not do in London. There was no way to set up an independent theatre company. You just cannot do it there. The chance to have a theatre where we could be a resident group, choose our own plays, choose the directors we work with, some of the time, that is a freedom that any actor would die for. A lot of people questioned our decision but we knew what we were doing. I was offered two jobs by the Royal Shakespeare Company just before coming over. One was an 18-month tour in the US, and one was 4 months in the UK. And I said no to both. And people thought I was absolutely crazy because it could have been a huge carreer move but I had already made my mind up. I was coming back to Budapest. This was just something we all really wanted to do. This freedom of expression, if you like. This freedom to choose great plays for three guys. NT: Would you tell me more about how the Complete Works of Shakespeare was born? MK: Four-five years ago, Jon, Matt and I were invited to do the Complete Works of Shakespeare. László Magács directed the production. We did a usual one-week-run at the Merlin, and it was so successful that Tamás Jordán thought it would be worth bringing it back for a longer run. And since Tamás liked it so much, he thought it was worth experiencing having an English language group resident in the Merlin over the whole season. So, we loved living in Budapest and we thought if we are going to stay here for a whole season we would need one other play at least. We decided we would do the play Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness, which is a fantastic drama. We started an eight-day-run in the year 2002. It was a huge success, full houses, and so this is how Madhouse started. Since then we have had six plays on, the Complete Works of Shakespeare, Stones in His Pockets and Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me have stayed. We are based in Budapest and travel a lot in the surrounding countries. We all are extremely delighted that Tamás Jordán invited us here. It is really wonderful that we can play at this venue, at the National Theatre. If someone would have told us that a few years ago, we would not really have believed it was possible. NT: How do you explain the success of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, as a piece? MK: To be fair to the writers, first and foremost I think it is just a fantastic idea to do all the plays of Shakespeare under 2 hours. I think what makes our particular production so successful is how well we work together. Over the years we have brought our own humour to it. It is pretty much unrecognizable from the one that we opened 4 years ago. We do really keep it fresh and topical. When we travel with it, we always make it relevant to where we are. The three of us are very confident with improvising on stage. We feed off each other and are able to think on the spot and go with the mood of the audience. We interact with them as well. We use audience members at various moments in the show. NT: How do the Hungarian audiences receive the Complete Works of Shakespeare? MK: What I find wonderful about doing the shows here is having this lovely mixture of Hungarians and native English speakers. There is always a nice balance. It is very hard to say what percentage is made up of Hungarians and native speakers. But usually the Hungarians who are coming have a very high standard of English and they are more than happy to get involved. We have pulled out many Hungarians and they all have done very well. NT: Mostly young people are coming to your shows? MK: A lot of young people. But the great thing about the Shakespeare is how it really does suit anybody from the age of 6-7 up until 80. There is really no age that cannot enjoy this play. We do get a great mixture of ages whereever we take the show. It appeals to people on different levels. Of course it appeals more to people who are familiar with Shakespeare, they may get some of the jokes better than other people. I would say about 30-40% of the play is original Shakespeare. Maybe even less, actually. Most of it is us speaking about the plays, making fun of Shakespeare. It’s all very lighthearted. Making fun of ourselves, mostly. So people definitely should not worry about the amount of original Shakespeare, and how much they will understand. Because even the bits of Shakespeare we use are not complicated Shakespare. People can make the connections and get the story very easily. People of all ages, all levels of English, - I would even go as far as to say people who have pretty much no English – can still have a wonderful evening of entertainment. NT: Do you think that the role of English language theatre will change in Budapest in the next few years? MK: To be fair to us and of course to the Merlin who started the whole English language theatre thing, we have clearly shown that there is a huge demand for English language theatre here. And it is not going to go away, because if nothing else apart from the growing number of English language speakers living here, every single year you have hundreds of people leaving universities and high school, who have spent years learning English. So in that respect the number of English speakers can only increase. In my ideal world we should try to have a balance whereby at any given time we should aim to do a Hungarian show in English, where possible, because for me that is the ideal crossover. We are going to the Thalia Theatre with Stones in his Pockets - OK, that is an English drama - and that runs there in Hungarian. And that interests me. That is a valuable bonus, where people who do speak both languages have a chance to see two versions of a play. It is impossible for us to say where we will be in two or five years time or even next year, but in terms of demand for English language theatre it is only going to grow. After three years of doing only three-men shows the time has to come where one of us directs, or we get an outside director and we could have a five-six character play. And the audience could see us in an ensemble piece. Kinga Keszthelyi
  • Magyarul

    (2004. október 13.)