Bence Varga: The good spirit of man of all times

The Maladype company’s performance, Merlin, is built on a complex and dense material, like a vision of Europe's history: it shows the past, the present and the future at the same time.

Anyone who has seen a single performance from the Maladype Company, hallmarked by Zoltán Balázs, will hardly get rid of what he has experienced there. We say the experienced and not the seen or heard, because it’s the fundamental nature of their plays that they question everything we think about the theater.

With their seductive and at the same time frightening formal solutions, they almost completely break down all the conscious and less conscious expectations and preconceptions with which the spectator enters a performance - and thus there is nothing left but to learn to orient oneself in a world that has suddenly become foreign to us. This, by definition, produces a strong effect that, depending on the recipient, remains a cathartic or simply bad experience, as is the case with most form-breaking works.

The same can be said for their latest play. This time, the company staged Tankred Dorst’s monumental drama, originally scheduled for more than eight hours, entitled Merlin, or the Waste Land. The performance in Eötvös10, which is a little over two hours long, is based on a very complex and dense material, in which the original text had to be condensed. The basic vase of the story evokes the story of the Knights of Artus (Arthur) and the Knights of the Round Table.

On the small stage of the Eötvös10, the scenery welcomes the audience, with a small house in the center, from which a metal ladder leads high. Here is born Merlin, blessed - or beaten - with visionary abilities, who will soon take his place at the top of the ladder above the head of mankind to find an answer to the biggest question: how to create harmony, equality and peace in the world. And the concept will soon be born as a vision: it will be the idea of the round table that King Arthur will be accomplishing.

However, the play is far from romantic in the history of knights and kings, but rather a kind of postmodern overview of the history of Europe. And this review is not diachronic, nor retrospective, but like a vision in which past, present, and future appear simultaneously.

​​This vision is reflected in the incessant alternation of scenes and time planes, between which is the figure of Merlin, who is more than a simple wizard — the good spirit of man of all time. The spirit whose desire is unchanged is to create a just world order based on each other’s love. As we know, countless attempts have been made to create this world order, with little success. This gives the drama of the piece, the relentless confrontation with the impossibility of the task, the futility of redesigning and redesigning the methods and how. The characters in the play all appear in a strange, futuristic costume, which further reinforces the feeling that the problem raised will not be solved in the future.

At the same time, the piece is ironic, as it is not surprising in a contemporary performance. For the man of the modern age has already recognized exactly this diabolical dialectic. This is the only thing that is permanent.

The director emphasizes the slippage of the dimensions of time by creating synchronicity, suggesting that even the most different eras of history actually rhyme with each other. In line with this, the characters from time to time speak simultaneously, reciting long monologues together, which amplifies what is being said and makes it feel as if the spectator is listening to the judgment of all mankind.

As soon as the spectator accepts this special world, it is no longer surprising that John Lennon and Yoko Ono appear on stage, whose songs, the piece suggests, are no different from the concept of the roundtable. And Mark Twain appears as a duplicated personality, with a strange speech mixing Hungarian and English, while Beatles songs are also performed more and more frequently in the actors' performances.

It all shows up on stage in a dizzying way. Zoltán Balázs puts a lot of work on his actors, all of whom do amazing work. With the exception of Gedeon András, who plays Merlin, everyone is hiding in the skin of several characters, and their roles are constantly changing. And sometimes a mask, a wig, a puppet, and occasionally completely ordinary items are enough for these changes.

The Maladype Company’s Merlin guts out the viewer with reality. As if he lacks the stage dramaturgy, the performance begins with absolute emotional and intellectual excitement, and it doesn’t leave you for a moment during the entire playing time. The spectator needs full, unconditional attention and understanding. Without this, we can’t even enter the fascinating world of Tankred Dorst. It's worth it.

Bence Varga, Magyar Hírlap, 2022

Translation by Zsuzsanna Juraszek