Major Tamás: Romeo and Juliet, 1971.

Context of the Performance in Theatrical Culture

The Romeo and Juliet of Major Tamás, the performance later known as ’brutal Romeo’, caused intense debates in the community of critics after its 1971 premier. Major intended the performance to reflect on contemporary political issues and protest against ongoing civil wars, some of the critics interpreted it as a brave divergence from illusionist theatre,...

Dramatic text, dramaturgy

Major, who often spoke in support of the idea of a ‘complete Shakespeare, didn’t make any cuts to Romeo and Juliet either. He left parts of the text in the performance that very rarely end up on stage, such as the lines where Capulet praises Romeo, or Juliet’s full poison-monologue. Some contemporary critics saw this...

Direction

Major’s statements as a director reveal a mix of two interpretations: on the one hand, he’s echoing the interpretation canonised by the afterword in the 1953 edition of the Collected Works of Shakespeare, reading the struggle of the young lovers as the fight against the discordant world of feudalism. On the other hand, he was...

Acting

In the wake of Várkonyi Zoltán’s iconic character-centric Romeo and Juliet, many have rejected Major’s director-centric staging, even though the central idea resulted in an excellent ensemble piece, something that’s rare in Hungarian Shakespeare-performances. Major put a great emphasis on crowd scenes and on individualising minor characters. The Apothecary (Suka Sándor) was elevated above the...

Sight and Sound

The visuals of this performance were defined both by puritanism and eclecticism. Csányi Árpád’s set design consisted of movable, rotatable bricks and prisms, which were on one side framed by a set of planks. The two-level stage allowed Major to play certain scenes in parallel, emphasising their ironic or grotesque qualities. The stage is lit...

Impact and posterity

In summary, we have to state that this performance only half-succeeded in its fascinating project of creating anti-romantic, unemotional tragedy, and the failure was mostly due to the modernising elements forced on the play. The debate about the performance gave rise to various, highly emotional thinkpieces, most of which criticised the contemporary elements in the...