Talk with Imre Csuja

The Tót Family has been a successful production of the Örkény Theatre for four years. What is its secret, why do viewers like it?

Imre Csuja: It is first of all István Örkény’s merit. The wonderful Örkény-language has an incredible musicality, which we, actors fill with creative ideas and life. The form created by our dramaturge, Ildikó Gáspár helps us in this, too. She has brilliantly coined the short novel, the film and the previous play, so a new play was born; this is what we perform, including the describing parts next to the dialogues. It is a real delicacy for us actors because we can sometimes step out of our characters, look at it from outside, explaining it and then step back. It is amazingly exciting and adds a lot to it. It is much more than signing the spot with a plate or changing clothes between the acts. We say what is going on and where we are – and the viewers can enjoy it as their own visual experience. This way the actors have an opportunity to act virtuously with open changes on the stage and thus the audience also gets more. The production has strong dynamics and rhythm; it is like a big symphony. Not to mention those real characters created by Örkény, who are pleasures for the actors to play and pleasures for the audience to identify themselves with. 

How can get topical songs that represent a different genre into the production? 

Imre Csuja: There are certain dramaturgical points where they fit perfectly. They have become organic parts of the performance. And all of them are related to war situations, like for example ‘Somewhere in Russia...’ or I croon ‘Breeze, fly far today, fly far, like a hawk in the sky, a soldier is standing on the Russian land...’ with that emblematic chirping torch in my mouth.

How much improvisation is there in the performance?

Imre Csuja: There is no improvisation; we brainstormed a lot during the rehearsals. Pál Mácsai had a dream how he would like the play and we tried to realise it. For example we did a lot of thinking how we should start the second act. After a lot of ideas some of us suggested that it should be minuet-like, which would symbolise our confinement. With this method we found out everything step by step, accepting that even a bad idea can be good if we develop it, it would jerk us. We brought ourselves to this kind of thinking.

This world may look strange and timeless… Elegant evening dresses, accessorised with some typical but seemingly not fitting props like Tót’s fireman helmet. 

Imre Csuja: We tried to recall the world of front theatres. The world war period, when actors set up and visited fighting soldiers. There were neither sets nor costumes just their glad rags and a couple of things indicating who was who. ‘Theatre is where I step on the stage’ – said Kamill Feleki, and our performance suggests the same. This is my most favourite role at the moment. 

Who are the viewers of The Tót Family?

Imre Csuja: Absolutely mixed people. Some are older who probably saw the film and have the ‘aha experience’ and the youth who meet the story for the first time. It is compulsory writing and they are happy that we play it. They come because it is convenient for them and then leave with enthusiasm. They wait for us to ask for an autograph with glittering eyes saying how much they have enjoyed it.

Why is it good to play Örkény? 

Imre Csuja: He speaks this language wonderfully; it is amazing how he writes. What a sentence this is, for example: ‘According to the procedure of the Northern Hungarian Village Fire Department the vertical axis of a fireman’s body and the horizontal axis of the fireman helmet must make
a ninety degree angle.’ Or the text that we call the clock monologue: ‘A clock always shows the precise time in principle. (In case it is not exposed to vibration and we neglect ageing.)’ It is so enjoyable. Anyway, he is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Have you been on a tour in the country with The Tót Family?

Imre Csuja: We played it in a gymnasium at the ‘Ördögkatlan Festival’, in Villány at about seventy degrees Celsius, we were sweating like hell but the love of the audience made us forget everything bad. 

Have you ever been to Gödöllő?

Imre Csuja: Of course! For example last year I presented my performance ‘Tell me a poem, Imi’ in the Royal Waiting Room. In the afternoon I told poems to children and in the evening I had an extended version for adults. I look forward to this meeting; I hope Gödöllő will love our The Tót Family.