… me, the elderly woman … I am rolling in the universe - Interview with Ilona Béres / 2003

“Now I was foaming like Kronos” - says Ilona Béres in the buffet of the Bárka theater, yet with mouth full, after eating a larger croissant in twenty seconds. We don’t have much time - we both know - the lunch break, minus the croissant. Lunch breaks like this never can be long enough, especially if the director is Zoltán Balázs, who would rehearse all day, and who guards the upcoming performance just like the Trappist monks the secret of making cheese so that nothing leaks out ...

- I made an interview with Zoli Balázs in spring, he then began preparing for Theomachia, and I was at him before he went to meet you to tell that, you will have to learn a part of your text backwards. He was very excited about how to tell this and what you would say to that. I remember how he and Judit Góczán, the dramaturg of the performance were joking on that Zoli would offer you three options to choose from: jumping through a fiery hoop, standing in a laver filled with lukewarm water throughout the performance, or learning the text backwards. Coincidence brought me to ask now how you reacted to the thing?

- I was really surprised at it, I just couldn’t imagine it could work. But after seeing one of Zoli’s performances, The School for Fools, I totally trusted him. I thought it was worth an experiment. I spent quite a bit of time in the summer, I was able to learn two lines a day, and then I hit the ground. But in the end I embarked on it and now it seems to work. So Zoli was right, it was worth struggling with.

- What is the function of this in the performance?

- At the beginning of the Weöres play, the barbarian inhabitants of the world of Kronos speak in vowels and consonants, pronouncing the words by voice tones. They have no soul, they cannot have thoughts, they live in an absolute dictatorship. In the performance, their text is said backwards, which makes it as if it’s in Old-Hungarian. When the new god is born: Zeus, they receive a soul and their lives gain meaning. Then the first sentence is said forward. You are welcome, tiny god. The utterance of a clear voice is a cathartic experience in this linguistic chaos. When Kronos loses his power, his world, everything he had, he will become similar to his barbaric, oppressed servants, he returns to the beginnings. I leave the world as Kronos by falling apart to pieces. On the one hand, this will be seen through my physical appearance: I tear my hair out and take off the royal jersey, a death shirt is all that is left on me, and I stand there barefoot, drenched. I was inside Kronos, me, the old woman, through my image, the defeated god is leaving the world. The way of my text-telling is also falling apart. I start speaking in syllables, rol-ling in the u-n-i-v-e-r-s-e, I pronounce the universe disassembled to vowels and consonants, so I completely perish and disappear from the world. A great dictator, a monster will leave eventually.

- What is your personal relationship with the dictator, Kronos?

- I am forced to love him, because he is from me. And it's not just a compulsion, "we spent a lot of time together." We have been dealing with Theomachia for almost two months now. I was in a very bizarre situation because I was rehearsing two performances at once. In my own theater, the Hungarian Theater in Pest, the Queen of Prince Bob by Jenő Huszka, and here, the role of Kronos. These two roles are two completely different layers of my career, different genres, different density. I was happy to be able to deal with so many things at once.

I really enjoyed the rehearsals of Theomachia, because it is always a great experience for me to work with talented people. Zoli has a very inventive, quite special picture of theater, so no matter how old I am, I’m happy to embark on such talented adventures, regardless of the end result.

- How do you prepare for a role? Has your perception of Kronos changed during rehearsals?

- I never work from brought material, I don’t start rehearsing a production by doing something I have already done and using or throwing things away from it. I learn to speak almost again with every character.

Zoli Balázs is not a dictator, not Kronos. He had a very definite idea, but if a director imagines something so strongly, it gives the actor a lot of freedom. My fantasy also set off along his piles, and together we formed this heroic figure of God, this cruel dictator. It was a democracy, I am very much in it.

I play on a pretty wide scale. As a guest in the Madách Chamber, I have another male role: Prince Sulsky in Boris Godunov; I play a strange American figure in the Hidden Games of the Pest Theater; the Queen of Prince Bob at the Hungarian Theater; and a strange French woman in the Thursday ladies who has been hopelessly in love with her brother for a lifetime. An awesome frustrated creature, I really like it. Thursday Ladies is an absolutely commercial piece anyway, very different from the other performances I’ve been in, tabloid, but we play it deep enough, at least I hope the audience loves it anyway. In addition to these, I also play Queen Gizella in The mission of Happy Astrik by Zsolt Pozsgai. So the scale is extremely wide, I have to be different everywhere, I can’t afford to work from panels.

- Kronos is not your first male role, nor is Sulszkij. Erzsi Báthory told in an interview, that during high school the two of you attended the same acting group, where you have already received male roles so often?

- As an adult I did not play male roles. I played trousers-roles, for example my graduation exam was based on the role of Rosalinda, from Shakespeare’s As you like it. Dressed up like a man, as a woman she plays a male role. But Balázs Kovalik was the first who gave me an actual male role in Borisz Godunov. So I don’t think I should change my gender, it’s about some kind of strength, inner energy that young directors feel in me.

- You are a guest at the Bárka Theater. What is your relationship with the company? Have you developed any closer ties?

- Of course, Spulni (Andrea Spolarics), whom I consider a great talent, is a huge discovery for me. I am wondering why she still hasn’t got the Jászai award, she has been worthy of it for a long time. And I’m glad to see how wonderfully Gabi Varga is rehearsing too, so the girls are very good and the boys are also terribly charming. From Rémusz (Szikszai), through Kristóf Horváth, to the five Curetes, one is better than the other.

- Rumor had it that you would be standing on a coturn during the performance. How much of that came true?

- They made it, but standing on a thirty-centimeter coturn — I have thirty-six feet — is like having to stand on stilts for an hour and fifty minutes, so it turned out to be hopeless. I'll be on a small platform instead. Even at today’s rehearsal, I was already standing for an hour and forty-five minutes to find out how much I endure, because as you can see, I’m no longer twenty. In one place, I stand practically motionless almost until the end, my thighs become almost like a rock. Only at the end of the performance, when I tear my hair, do I raise my hand. Such a tough thing, give it a try!

- Is the tearing of hair symbolic, or...

- It’s real. I have a bald forehead wig with big black hair, that I am tearing when I am in despair and having to see the loss of my world.

- I saw a mask maker on the playbill. Will you have a mask?

- I have a strong mask, like the head of a Japanese samurai, designed by Judit Gombár. This is not a mask, but strong makeup. The dresses are also strongly oriental, stylizations of Japanese wear.

- I heard you have two rehearsal-suits, one in silver and one in black. Did you order these for this rehearsal process?

- I did not order, I have these. But how do you know that?

- I heard.

- You heard? Yes, for one is always in the laundry, it has no special significance. But now this, which is on me, it’s a third, because so far we’ve been working in a rehearsal room where it was very hot, but yesterday we came into the fencing room and here they opened a door, a window, and I felt cold. I am afraid for my health, not to get sick before the show, so now I’m putting on warmer stuff. Kronos is wearing pants, one is trying to rehearse in it, and as I’m going to stand in slippers, I also brought my own slippers to feel the “comfort” of the performance approximately.

- Do you like Sándor Weöres? Do you have a favorite poem from him?

- I really like it and lately Toccata is my favorite. I’d be happy to tell that if there will be a chance for it, but unfortunately there aren’t any poetry shows lately. My solo evening ended with this. You know it?

- I don’t.

- It starts with ... As I get older, I feel like my life is coalescing into the past ... and the end is that ... I've been here since the ancient-beginning, but I'm dying with the butterfly. Nice, isn't it?

- Somehow it evokes the world of Theomachia.

- Yes, maybe there is a god, Kronos in it, who dies with the birth of the Son. And of course for me it is personally touching.

- May I ask something that is a little more personal? As far as I know, you have a very intimate relationship with your apartment.

- It has years of work in it. Ultimately, two adult people came together, my husband and I, I was thirty, he was thirty-four. We had nothing, we didn’t take our old things with us, only the little things, and there is a story, a memory, a holiday attached to every object, so it looks like us. Of course, I don't let a photographer in. I have never appeared In Home Culture and similar newspapers, and I never will. I have a sphere that I won’t show.

- Is there a story attached to an object that you might even tell?

- No, it's an intimate sphere. However, we have two dogs, I gladly talk about them. One is ours, a Kuvasz, and another we adopted because our neighbor had to move and couldn’t find where to put his puppy. So we have one such an infamous cattle, a rotweiler - vizsla mix, a dog that is quite tough in nature. We really love both. One is white, the other is black.

- What is the next performance you will be playing in?

- I was invited again to the Madách Chamber for McDonagh’s play The Beauty of Leenane. In the re-translation of Lajos Parti Nagy, it will probably be played under the title of Jigsaw. Directed by Sándor Guelmino, we will start rehearsing in January. I play a seventy-year-old woman in it, who was beaten to death by her daughter with a jigsaw, so as I say the palette is varied, thank God.

Bori Sebők, port.hu, 2003

Translation by Zsuzsanna Juraszek