The comedy of passing away
"We humans can only suffer and be happy in one way, whether we’re at the beginning or at the end of our lives,"
says István Örkény in the Preface to his tragicomedy "The Cats Play". When we hold a photo of our youth, it seems that our life can be captured in a moment of self-abandonment, and though the years go by, our passion and pain remain just as alive inside. Örkény adds that “The protagonist of this grotesque story is the widow Mrs. Béla Orbán, and the play is actually her never-ending big-mouthed, truth-bending or downright lying quarrel with everyone around her, including her daughter, the woman living next door, Paula, and most of all, her sister Giza who lives near Munich. She fights tooth and nail to force her confused, senseless and hopeless love on the world. She encompasses all the capabilities a person can have: the loud mouth of a vendor in a marketplace and the grace of a tragic Greek heroine. What else could she do? Mrs. Orbán defies the laws of nature as she ignores old age and declares a war on death. ”
Cats’ Play was first published as a novel in 1965 and was a great success. Örkény was both asked and inspired by young director Gábor Székely to adapt it to the theatre, and in 1969, he wrote the stage version of this epistle-novel. At the time, a play consisting of soliloquies was a pioneering format – by now, it is common “postmodern” practice. In January 1971, Cats’ Play premiered in Szolnok, and a few months later, at the request of the Vígszínház, Gábor Székely also staged it at the Pest Theatre, with Mária Sulyok and Elma Bulla in the leading roles. The Pest Theatre kept it in its repertoire for more than a decade. "Mrs. Orbán will survive us all," stated Sulyok. She did, indeed. In the year of its premiere, the play was produced at two other theatres in Hungary and also made its debut in Helsinki. Since then, Cats’ Play has been staged well over one hundred times in many countries around the world. At its 100th premiere in 1986, it was staged at the Játékszín as a contemporary classic, with a brilliant new cast featuring Irén Psota, Klári Tolnay and Mari Törőcsik, who excelled as Mouse. In 1974, Cats’ Play premiered as a feature film directed by Károly Makk.
At the National Theatre, Cats’ Play will again be a rewarding opportunity for an outstanding cast, and we hope that Mária Sulyok’s prophecy will come true again: "The meaning, tone and message of Cats’ Play may change, but it will never say goodbye to success. Director János Szász would only share this much of his concept: “This show belongs to the actors. All I have to do is wish them courage and faith for this beautiful and bone-chillingly hard journey.