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What is a director? Does the term have any meaning? Both were questions asked on a course at the Young Vic Theatre (London) I recently attended. There is value to them. Theatre is thousands of years old but directors have only existed for a little over a century. How directors should work with actors is a contentious subject. Many successful directors offer completely different ideas and thus it has been interesting to observe where Róbert Alföldi's practice overlaps with what I have seen in Britain and where it diverges.

At the heart of Róbert 's work are shared ideas: the motivation and intention of characters; the given circumstances of a scene; relationships between characters. At their heart, these come from Stanislavski's work. Róbert has occasionally mentioned him and modern British theatre is based on the techniques and theories of Stanislavski. I would not describe Róbert as a devotee of Stanislavski but it is unsurprising that these ideas are common across European theatre.

However, how he implements these ideas diverges from British theatre In Britain we generally spend days, if not weeks, sitting around a table. We discuss the scenes, motivations and relationships. We break down each scene into parts or units or beats, to try and understand the scene. This work is not present in the rehearsal process of A salemi boszorkányok. After the initial reading we moved straight into staging the piece. The work is done onstage, as the piece is rehearsed. Similar terminology is used but it is done in a physical, not a mental space.

Additionally, what was unusual for me has been the degree of precision and specificity Róbert immediately demanded from actors: where they stood, how they talked, what was to be stressed in lines. This behaviour would be unexpected in Britain. We emphasise collaboration and letting actors 'find' the scene through practice. For a director to 'direct' so precisely would be seen as invasive. However, it is clear watching him work that he gets results and pushes actors to an open and honest state. A conversation I had with Eszter Bánfalvi helps to explain this. When Róbert gets on stage and gives a demonstration of what he wants Eszter says she does not attempt to copy him. Instead she attempts to read his inner action and energy and consider how she can interpret and implement that with her body and voice. We return to a Stanislavskian principle, arguably with additional detail from the work of Michael Chekhov. The inner energy and awareness of character are best found through physical work and inhabiting a space. It seemed strange to me because it was unusual but it is focusing on a achieving and similar result to British work – to understand the play and play truth.

I should note that Róbert is also an acclaimed actor. To practise both roles is unusual in British theatre – a director rarely acts . Using his talent in rehearsal is sensible. Also, the actors are used to this practice. They have been trained like this and work like this regularly. I don't know enough about Hungarian theatre to say Róbert is typical, but he has a common language with his actors. If Róbert was to direct like this in Britain I think he would face resistance. Likewise, I imagine many British directors would frustrate Hungarian actors by avoiding such strong offers. What I'm trying to understand as I watch him work is how and what I can adapt and use in my own practice.

On that note, what are the benefits of this method? Performances are very open, very honest and very expressionistic. British theatre tends to be intellectual. We often shy away from complete openness because it makes us feel vulnerable. The technical approach I mentioned would be used in Britain, and we would also use exercises designed to unlock emotion and develop comfort on stage. A good British production achieves this, less good productions often seem masked or lacking in life.

The problem of body language is often discussed in British theatre and Róbert's directing seems to overcome this. However, I can see limitations in Róbert's method. The production relies on the director making the correct choices. It is his vision on stage, what if it did not work? From conversations with cast members I gather they might then look at discussing moments more and clarifying imprecise direction. Similarly, it requires very receptive and calm actors to cope with the precision of his demands. The ensemble and Róbert's talents are evident because I do not see this in the rehearsal room and because I can see what they achieve every time we work on a scene.


2018. május 02.

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