When I lived in London, I felt like a tourist on a permanent holiday. Yes, I had a job that got me out of bed each morning. And I had a commute to suffer through. And I had to deal the mania that is the London rush hour. Yet it never felt like home. In the eighteen months I lived there, I moved flat four times. I just couldn’t settle. And while it certainly doesn’t rank up there in terms of favourite places to live, London has one huge advantage over anywhere else I’ve ever lived, including Budapest … its theatre.
My key worker friends – nurses, doctors, and teachers – had access to reduced-price theatre tickets. And as I didn’t have much of a life really, I could always be relied on to accompany them at the last minute. I got to see some stellar performances. I was a regular at the half-price ticket booth and knew of every offer and deal going. I would go as often as three times a week. I once took two days off work to see back-to-back performances of Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials.
I didn’t just limit myself to the big theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue and the West End. I hit the fringe, too. From the Tricycle in Kilburn to Ovalhouse and the Hackney Empire, I saw some memorable performances for next to nothing. Pay-what-you-can is a fabulous concept that makes theatre affordable for everyone.
While English-language theatre in Budapest is definitely affordable, it’s not nearly as plentiful as it is in London. I’ve had to wean myself off my addiction to live performance and settle instead for cinema. And although I might have been a little more discerning in London, considering all the choice I had, in Budapest I’d watch pretty much anything. And I’ve seen some doozies.
Given the artistic vibe in the city, and the number of English-speakers (both Hungarian and ex-pat), there is a marked lack of decent theatre companies that cater to the English-language market. Budapest English Theatre is one to be noted. Led by Australian director Virginia Proud, this international collaboration of theatre artists was established in 2012 to develop quality English-language performances in Budapest. BET’s recent entry into the world of dramatic readings has certainly raised the performance bar in the city.
Late last year, I went to see a dramatic reading of the Master of His Domain. It’d been a long time since I’d seen a theatrical performance that the audience was still talking about three hours after it was all over. There we were, glasses in hand, heatedly debating our futures and how we envisioned our old age. The stark reality that our children (if we had any) might stick us in a nursing home and leave us to the mercy of random strangers was a sobering thought. At times introspective, at times hilarious, at times reflective, the Master of His Domain really lends itself to the dramatic reading format. And when art becomes reality (or reality becomes art) and gives us something interesting to talk about, it’s done its job.
It’s not often enough that English-language theatre in Budapest offers up intelligent entertainment that makes us laugh and gets us thinking. For two dates in May (Friday 6th and Tuesday 31st), BET will stage another reading of this original script from the pen of Virginia Proud. It features the inimitable Rupert Slade as Shorty, Beth Spisljak as Nurse Gloria, Declan Hannigan as Shorty’s son Paul, and Virginia Proud as Nurse Angela. Curtains go up at 19.30 on the night at Vallai Kert, Rumbach Sebestyen ut 10. Tickets are a steal at 2500 ft and can be booked online at www.budapestenglishtheatre.com/tickets. Don’t dither. Tickets will go quickly. This is one to be seen.
First published in the Budapest Times 22 April 2016