05. 08. 2014. 10:10

UK premiere of Hungarian dark-comedy classic

IgnitionStage, a theatre company in Manchester is staging Prah, a Hungarian dark-comedy classic by György Spiró that has been playing to sell-out European audiences since 2007.

The production features an original score by composer Alan Williams. Playwright Spiró will be at the London shows to watch his play being performed for the first time in its authorised English translation, and will be taking part in a Q and A session following each performance.

Written by award winning and controversial dramatist and novelist György Spiró and translated by Szilvi Naray-Davey, Prah tells the story of an impoverished couple from a small town in Hungary who realise their lottery ticket is THE ONE, forcing them to ask troubling questions about what they want and who they are.

Prah stars British born actors Anne-Marie Draycott and Zach Lee, who have both appeared in many UK stage productions to rave reviews. Anne-Marie and Zach team up together for the first time on stage to bring to life this unique and dynamic drama.

György Spiró is a celebrated Hungarian novelist, essayist and playwright who has been called 'the Hungarian Edward Bond'. His novel Messiahs (2010), won several prestigious awards, and many of his plays have been selected as Hungary's Best Drama of the Year. His most famous works include The X-s, Chickenhead, The Kingfisher, Dreaming for You and Captivity. His works have been translated into English, Polish, German, Italian, Turkish, Slovak, Hebrew, Romanian, Serbian and Slovenian. Two of Spiró's plays are currently being performed in Budapest: Prime Location (2012) and Blackout (2001). Blackout, reopened on April 11th (in an independent theatre), is a dramatisation of autocratic tendencies in Hungary's modern political life, especially topical in the light of this month's elections.

Director and translator Szilvi Naray-Davey was born in Budapest and grew up in her native Hungary as well as Geneva, Switzerland. She received her BA Honours in Drama and Theatre Arts from The University of London, Goldsmiths’ College. Continuing her journey west she left for New York City to study at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Szilvi then spent seven years acting in Los Angeles before moving to Manchester with her family, where she set up IgnitionStage in 2007. She has translated three plays to date. With Prah, Szilvi is in the rare position of being able to direct her own translation.

IgnitionStage is a small professional theatre company, established in Manchester in 2007. IgnitionStage’s producer, Joanne Walker, artistic director, Szilvi Naray-Davey, and set designer Ian Scullion, have successfully produced three plays, bringing the work of new writers from the north west to the stage. Their latest production of Fencing for Losers (Rob Johnston writer, Richard Sinnott director) played to sell out audiences at The Lowry and The Didsbury Studio Theatre as well as receiving critical acclaim.The British Theatre Guide called it “a powerful short piece of theatre”; the reviewer of City Life felt it was “Directed with imagination, humour and a masterly feel for pace.” (See website for further reviews.) In a co-production with producer and director Frances Piper they toured Donal Fleet: A Confessional (Sean Gregson writer, Frances Piper director) which played at the 24:7 Festival and at The Hampstead theatre, London. Their new remit is producing translated contemporary drama from central and eastern Europe. They wish to contribute to celebrating foreign plays and foreign cultures by selecting thought-provoking and entertaining works that translate well onto the British Stage. Enikő Leányvári has now joined the company bringing her dramaturgical expertise of central European drama.

This production is supported by Arts Council England, the Balassi Institute and the University of Salford.

Translator and Director's notes:

Translating Prah was an act of love. I fell in love with the text and then had a long and complex relationship with it for many years. I translated it, retranslated it again and again; I had frustrations, hiccoughs, fidelity issues. Then, the best I could hope for, I thought, was to get it published in some specialist journal that few would read. I did not want that. I wanted this loved drama text not to stop its life on the page but to have a life on the stage. After all, the raison d'être of play text is to be performed on stage. And luckily it has. But this would never have happened without funding from The Arts Council of England, which recognised that UK theatre can be enriched by the work of contemporary Hungarian playwright György Spiró.

I have been in an unusual position to be able to direct my own translation. The traditional trajectory of a translated drama is rather different: an interlingual translator is hired and commissioned at a pitiful rate to do all the hard work of translating the play from language A to B. Then, the commissioning theatre will hire a well-known and often monolingual playwright to then "retranslate the translation" in order to increase ticket sales. This practice has been necessitated by understandable commercial pressures, but sadly this has meant that translators have become invisible, often their name not mentioned at all, the advertising calling it a "version by such-and-such, a well known writer." I wanted to start a new practice by which the translator is seen as the active and creative theatre practitioner that he/she is, by reclaiming the visibility of the translation. My aim was to create a translation that is performance-ready while avoiding domesticating the play by erasing its foreignness. I wanted my character to be Hungarian as originally created, living in Hungary in the early 2000s, but speaking an idiomatic English. I aimed to deliver a translation that takes my audience abroad and by doing so asks my audience to digest a rather spicy foreign meal. Too often, domesticated translations bring the text to the audience and do not require the audience to make the effort to adjust to the source culture. This strategy risks homogenising and erasing the unique cultural and political subtext and meaning of the text by making it adhere to Anglo-American aesthetics and cultural and political backgrounds.

As a director, the challenges were not dissimilar. The Hungarian couple I wanted to bring to life do live in poverty, but a poverty that is rooted in Hungary's goulash socialist past. The translation of historical references and the often dark and absurd humour of the play has been challenging. Concepts such as nostalgia for Yugoslavia or understanding a kulak’s son, the state security and the black car, as well as the informer 's report, have all shaped this couple's existence and experiences. These concepts, crucial to understanding the microcosm they represent, had to come across clearly. My directorial strategy was to highlight the impact of the past upon the characters’ present situation. Alan Williams' composition, together with Ian Scullion's set and the actors' talent, bring flesh and blood to the words, all contribute to this effect. I invite us all to enter this Hungarian couple's world and, by so doing, to reflect upon our own relationship to money and the essential difference between what we want and what we need. (Szilvi Naray-Davey)

For interviews, more information, and review tickets contact: Szilvi Naray-Davey, tel: 07914 824494 / Jane Lemon 07933 092650

Tags: György Spiró