Romanian theatre is ﬂavour of the month at Glasgow’s Tramway. And apparently British theatre is flavour of the month in Romania. Andrew Pulver gets a sneak preview and looks forward to more world-class drama.
It’s not every day that Communicado is mentioned in the same breath as the RSC. but to Romanian director Gabor Tompa. Scotland’s finest are among the essential artists that his native land are currently missing. ‘Unfortunately,’ he says, ‘in recent years only very few plays have come to Romania. People still live with the memory of wonderful tours — but these were 25 or 30 years ago. We need to see the best British directors — Peter Hall, Peter Brook, Gerry Mulgrew. I saw Communicado in Edinburgh and to me they are brilliant.‘
Belt-tightening and political upheaval being what it is. the financial aspects of such aspirations have been practically insurmountable. Tory budget-slashing in the 80s, and communist bloc collapse in the 90s mean that the kind of cultural interchange possible in the 605 and 70s is currently at a standstill. But to surmount this barrenness. a group of British theatres — including Glasgow’s Tramway — has pulled together to form Noroc, an association designed to allow mutual access for British and Romanian theatre companies to perform and communicate with each other.
Apart from organising placements, workshops and training sessions, Noroc, which means ‘cheers' in Romanian, is also in the business of touring. Two groups from Romania, both from the Western town
of Cluj, are taking a pair of lonesco plays around the UK, which are coming to the Tramway as part of a month-long Theatre Romania season (also due to include Phaedre and The [113! Days of Socrates). And those who consider the project to be a disguised form of patronage can, according to Tramway’s Neil Wallace, think again. ‘We are responding to their requests for training, and they are responding to our request to excite us with their vision and artistry,’ he says. ‘Romanian theatre has a rawness and edge often said to be lacking in their British counterparts. For me. that’s the basis of real exchange: each has something the other wants.’
What Tramway audiences are going to get. in Tompa‘s version of The Bald Prima Donna, is a complete re-working of the ground-breaking absurdist classic that ﬁrst appeared in l95|. Originally conceived as a subversion of conventional, realist drama, lonesco’s bizame drama is usually performed in an appropriately straight style: stereotyped characters uttering phrasebook conversations in an equally normal environment, slipping from surreal illogic to howling chaos.
Tompa though. homes in on the automaton-like nature of the Smiths and Martins by casting them as
toybox clowns and dolls. ‘I think the play is about people who don’t have anything to say to each other.‘ he explains. ‘They are just whirling about all the
time, in our society we are like mechanical puppetry.
We repeat the same gestures. the same moves; we just don't realise that we are doing this. We have Ieamt codes, we begin all our life the same, each day, next day.’
lonesco has been criticised in the past, most notably by Kenneth Tynan, for his proclaimed lack of interest in politics. But, clearly, Absurd Theatre has a ‘ particular appeal for Eastern bloc countries - anybody who saw the Hungarian company Katona Joszef’s Ubu Roi in l99l will remember the clear parallels that can be drawn for societies in crisis. Tompa agrees, but insists that it is a problem of wider concern. ‘When the catastrophe of destruction is before us and we listen to news of people killing other people — at first we are shocked, then it's repeated and we soon get used to it. It becomes the pleasant voice of the radio. The main problems of the human being are ofthis century; as the speed of information becomes faster, the more the technical revolution goes on, the further people will be from each other.’
As if to symbolise this great social melting-pot, the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj is itselfthe product of a Hungarian-speaking minority within Romania. The fact that they are performing a French play. written by a Romanian exile, for British audiences. contains a signiﬁcance of which Tompa is fully aware.
‘Before the l989 revolution, all theatre was full of political meanings, which was necessary then. But for an ethnic minority, the theatre and the church remained the last institutions and place of the language. Now we are always criticised by extremists, who want us to fulfil their nationalist missions. But we have to do performances that can be understood by people who don‘t speak the language. That's why theatre can be a great bridge to unite, and it’s the only way ethnic minority culture can survive.’ (Andrew Pulver)
The Bald Primo Donna. Tramway. Glasgow. Tue 26-50! 30 Oct; Phaedre, Tue 9—50! 13 Nov; The Lesson, Sun l4—Thurs 18 Nov; The Last Night of
Socrates. Mon 22—Wed 24.
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The List 22 October—4 November 1993 55