This is the thing Robert Woodruff is betting on: the Hungarian Theatre’s actors’ will to experiment and “to be together on the stage”, and also on an interesting combination between theatre and movie, which he fully exploits, mixing the two arts until they cancel each other or themselves.
Unsure of his theatre’s methods or in contrary, sure about the disturbing combination of theatre and movie that could be born, Robert Woodruff creates two performances in parallel. One that happens on the stage, near you, and one that is transmitted live, from near you, the cameras and screens everywhere amplifying the protagonists’ experiences and feelings frame by frame, as in a reality show.
The director’s solution, used rarely in Romania (in spite of the fact that projections are taking over the Romanian theatre), justifies itself in the performance of the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj, because it bets on electrocuting the viewer’s emotions, who is forced to become part of the story. The conventional limitations are partially canceled, partially reinstalled in another way, because the audience is not sitting in the auditorium, but on the stage, near the table, together with the protagonists. And to complete the experience, dishes and red wine are being served at the table... No tricks! And everything with an aroma of strictness.
We have become accustomed to being very close to the events on stage in the case of studio performances, but Celebration goes further: there’s an actor next to, or behind, or opposite almost every spectator. The proximity is really tangible. Their movement, their presence is so close that it cannot be closer. And so it goes, whether they are acting [in the scene], or whether the camera moves on, or if one of the actors talks to us, or asks us – mere civilians – a question. And they do. And it is not embarrassing, it feels natural. But remaining an objective outsider becomes impossible. One cannot write about this play in a subjective, impressionistic way. And we have not yet mentioned the harsh brutality of the story.
You forget that the here and now is not reality, that nobody has really hurt anybody. You'd like to jump up and smash your glass in the face of the pedophile. To call the police. To stop your ears and run down the aisle, not listening anymore to what is being said. But you don’t do this. You don’t leave your seat. You watch the show in silence, sometimes taking a sip of your wine or nibbling a cheese-ball. You do this because you are a civilized theatre-goer who does not disturb the performance.
The performance informs you without mercy. You are greatly mistaken if you believe that you are not part of the story, that you are just a viewer. This non-real story is one possible screenplay of one of the millions of horrors taking place anywhere, anytime, in the world. And you watch, because you are curious and civilized. And sometimes you sip your wine or nibble a cheese ball.
I still think that the best theatre company in Romania can be found at the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj, even if I risk becoming a regionalist with my frenetic assertion.
The performance Celebration (adaptation of the movie Festen by Thomas Vinterberg, Lars von Trier’s partner in the Dogma 95 movement), directed by Robert Woodruff (and adapted to stage by András Visky) is a cerebral performance, a psychical panoptic where the spectator is drowned in the intrigue and the dialectics of the guilty and traumatized minds.
It’s about a feast, a burial, a wake, where family relationships are turned upside down, shattered, grinded and butchered (as much as it’s possible and allowed). Michel Foucault would have adored Vinterberg’s movie, and also the performance of the Hungarian company from Cluj.
Presented by arrangement with Nordiska ApS., Copenhagen
Decor made by Altax SRL(Bucharest)
"I am attracted to a performance which tackles the extremes of human behavior and Celebration is such a project. Families like societies are often built on lies, secrets and half truths. That these falsehoods are buried into the DNA of the group is reflected in the face of the family or culture. It is a strained one. It is a mask of pretense. And the behavior of a group living under such a pact of silence reflects this unease. It is Agressive. Diseased. Wild. Celebration portrays the tremendous strength and fearlessness of the individual action of overcoming this code of silence; the beauty in the courage to shine a light on the truth of our lives both personally and in our cultures." Robert Woodruff