Get Shorty!

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.

MOHDLate 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 Don’t dither. Tickets will go quickly. This is one to be seen.

First published in the Budapest Times  22 April 2016

On being old

I caught the tail-end of mass in the village this morning. Of the 60 or so people in the congregation, I might have been one of three this side of 50. Afterwards, people stayed to chat, to catch up, to have a quick word and I was struck by the role of the church in villages and towns in Ireland where one in three old people live alone. It is at mass that their absence would be noticed, particularly if they’re daily communicants.

oldThere’s been a lot on the telly here about Ireland’s aging population. On Primetime the other night, Fiona Pender did a special on urban isolation. One old dear of 92, who has relatives (kids, grandkids, etc.) told of how she refuses to leave her home on Christmas Day. Her reason? Going to a house packed with life makes it all the harder for her to come back to the empty house that is hers.

Others spoke of how long the days are when no one comes to visit them. How the hours drag out. They need fewer hours sleep and those hours that they spend awake can only be filled with so much TV, so much reading. It’s the company the crave – what they want most. Someone to talk to, someone to care.

old age2We’re in danger of doing ‘old people’ an injustice. We think we know what’s best for them. Sometimes we forget they’re there. More times we can’t be bothered with their rants and raves and trips down memory lane. We don’t have the time, the patience, or the inclination. If they’re family, we might be harboring some residue of lifelong resentment. if they’re neighbours and of a curmudgeonly disposition, we might be nursing a grudge. And perhaps we are justified in doing so. But we shouldn’t forget that they’ve probably earned the right, by virtue of their years, to be the way they are.

The concept of old is relative. I have friends who are in their 80s and still playing golf. Another in his 90s who is complaining about how old everyone else is around him – old in their minds. More in their 70s who are dating again and finding a new lease of life. They’re enviable. They’re active. They have friends.

Just a thought…


2014 Grateful 22

I have a birthday coming up. It’s not a significant one. It doesn’t involve any zeros. But as the big 50 looms in the not too distant future, I am increasingly fascinated by how relative youth is.

Yes my 25-year-old friends can trip the light fantastic until the small hours of the morning – but that’s no great achievement in itself as I could name a number of friends in their seventh decade who can do (and do do) the same. If I have a couple of late nights in a row, I feel the pain. It takes me longer and longer to recover, but thankfully, I’m not yet at the stage where I’m ready to hang up my years and stay home.

I am fascinated by the diversity of age between those I count amongst my friends. It runs the gamut from 22 to 97 – a span of 75 years. And while the cultural references differ (I had no clue who Blur was,  but I don’t think that’s an age thing – it’s just a me thing) and occasionally divert conversations as they have to be explained, it’s marvellous to think that age no longer defines people.

I can remember when 50 meant twinsets and pearls, or at the very least, sensible heels and a perm.  I have a vivid recollection from primary school of one of my friend’s mother – a woman who had short spiky hair and wore long skirts and dangley earrings and high heels and looked so unlike any other mother in the village that I used to wonder if she really was one. I can remember times when ‘the young ones’ continued on through the night while the ‘ould ones’ went home. I can remember a youthful deference to anyone old enough to be my parent that went hand in hand with a reluctance to engage with them as an equal.

Thirty–the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Fifty is no longer old – it’s the new 3o; 70 the new 50. Style is no longer the purview of the young (I’m mad about these NY women). And far from defining us, age is something we seem to have mastered. I think all of us have a mental age in our head – I know I’m stuck at 32. That was a year when life stopped still long enough for me to catch up with it. It was the best of times and the worst of times. It was marked by a very reluctant acceptance on my part that I was growing up and growing older, an acceptance I thought (and still think) could be mitigated by refusing to grow any older in my head.

When I see an old person now, it’s not their age I recognise, it’s their attitude to life. Some people are old at 30; others are still young at 80. And I intend to be one of those.

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve beenMadeleine L’Engle

This week, I’m grateful to those who have years on me for reminding me that life is there to be lived; and to live it I need to be in the thick of it, not watching from the sidelines.