Budapest seems to have it all: brilliant architecture, numerous museums and galleries, a beautiful opera and at least five concerts each night. The only thing that a culture-loving expat could miss was an English-speaking theatre. Two years ago, Virginia Proud from Australia decided to fill this niche. The theatre director and writer speaks about the newest play by her group, Budapest English Theatre.
The capital attracts many people to visit, study, work or live but not all have the time or talent to learn the local lingo, so many survive on English. This may not be so bad when doing the shopping but it can be a serious problem when it comes to culture, particularly quality theatre.
Virginia Proud, a playwright, actress and director, arrived in 2011, planning to use Budapest as a base for her writing. At that time the main centre for English-language performance, Merlin Színház, had closed and the English language company, Madhouse Theatre, was no longer performing regularly. The city’s otherwise thriving cultural landscape looked like a barren desert for those who were longing for non-Hungarian-language theatre. Theatre-lover Proud founded Budapest Secret Theatre with some other expatriates to put on not only English-speaking but also very high-value, quality theatre. The constantly changing cast includes trained actors from English-speaking areas living in Budapest, and Hungarian actors who like to perform in English.
Asked why they chose the name Budapest Secret Theatre, Proud says: “At the time we were very small, making use of interesting spaces, basically finding our way and still searching for an audience.”
Budapest Secret Theatre started with a production called “Short & Sweet” – a composition of different short plays and monologues. The play was rehearsed in the home of one of the ensemble members, and performed in salon style, in a large classic apartment. But it was a great success with three shows all sold out, and city magazine Funzine described it as being “delicious and many parts … insanely funny”.
From that moment on, Budapest Secret Theatre was really on a roll. Audiences grew and the stages got bigger and bigger too, Spinoza Szinhaz, cultural centre Müszi and Atrium Film-Színház hosted some of last year’s presentations. Budapest Secret Theatre has presented some original plays “Hangovers” and “First Draft” written by Marianne Powell, playwright and co-founder, but also foreign authors, for example US playwright David Ives’s classic “Ancient History”, the company’s largest and most successful production that finished its run at Atrium in January.
The group plans to bring international productions to Budapest, their first last year was “Metamorphosis” by J.B. Alexander, about a man who wakes up in a cellar and finds out that he is none other than Franz Kafka. ”Metamorphosis” was an original production for the Ego Actus Theatre Company in New York but J.B. Alexander could not refuse Budapest Secret Theatre’s invitation. “Even if this is not our own production,” Proud said, “I am happy that we could put such a great show on stage for the local English-speaking community.”
New play, new name
In the meantime Budapest Secret Theatre got over the usual start-up difficulties to the point where Proud said they could not speak of a “Secret Theatre” any more, having become a fixed part of the English-speaking community. So in July it changed name to Budapest English Theatre; simple and appropriate. “First we wanted to think of something witty but finally we decided on a name that simply describes what we do,” she said.
Today the Australian is working on her next big production, a new play called “Pretext”. She shares some details about the comedy, though not much or it will ruin the fun. In short, Lucy, Cathy and Anne are three middle-age women, who worry that their best years are nearly behind them. They come up with a cunning plan to seduce hot, young men – while they still can. To their surprise it actually works. That is, until they are caught in their own web of deceit.
The secret of good theatre
Proud, Esther Holbrook, Beth Spisljak and Madeleine Damasdi will fill the major roles. Rehearsals have begun and it is beginning to take shape. Proud is also directing. As she explains, the double role of directing and acting is not always easy.
It is a bit like being a theatrical Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. “This is not the first time that I have done this; I already have the experience,” she smiles. Sometimes she throws in a few new lines here and there.
What would actress Virginia say about director Ms. Proud though? “I think that as a director I treat my actors with a lot of respect. Together, we are trying to create a reality, in which all the acts are happening and to which they are directing their full attention. This is how the story is told. This is the old magic trick: the audience will look at the same place where the actor directs his attention.”
Initial dates of “Pretext” will be:
Saturday, 11 October, 7pm – Spinoza Theatre, Dob utca 15, District VII
Wednesday, 15 October
and Thursday, 16 October, 8pm – Müszi,
Blaha Lujza tér 1, District VIII
for further information.