Trafó House of Contemporary Arts
Premiere at 24.11.2018

An informant for the secret police is most often not what one chooses to become, but it can be considered the second worst option in a system that keeps tabs on a huge number of people – even the loyal, the remotely suspicious or uninfluential – and knows their secrets and vulnerabilities.
Everybody has something to hide. To be successful in operative work, an informant has to ease into and stay credible in different roles. He or she should not raise suspicion in his or her private life, should gain the trust of the subject and show absolute loyalty to his or her handler.

This story is set in Hungary in the 1960’s. The secret police has Michael Besenczy under surveillance. Besenczy is Hungarian but has been living in England since his childhood. As a young man he came back to his home country to study film directing at the University of Theatre and Film Arts. The Hungarian authorities suspect he is working with British intelligence. Informants placed around him are commissioned to form intimate friendships, erotic relationships with the subject in order to learn as much as possible about him in order to provide privileged information. But no matter how skilful and cautious these informants are, they cannot hide from the secret police’s and each other’s observant gaze. In the end they might find themselves vulnerable, suddenly recognizing their own deepest fears in the eyes of their subject.

"Looking through all these yellowed agent reports - often ridden with spelling mistakes – through my research in the Archives of the State Security Services to gather data about this era brought a lot of ideas to mind." (Kristóf Kelemen)

Photos: Krisztina Csányi

“The performance written and directed by Kristóf Kelemen accounted for one of the exceptional moments of this theatre season. Its plot takes place in Hungary in 1965. Its opening monologue tells about the role the state security agency had played in the past and simultaneously draws our attention to the falsity of its own power rhetoric. And through that, to our present.”
(Andrea Tompa, Magyar Narancs)

Observers (...) stages the state of perpetual distrust with its documentary based but fictional, sometimes dreamlike psycho thriller crime story. As if David Lynch told the story of Gulasch Communism ... Thanks to the cunning mixture of different theatre forms and genres, Observers is not set in the past, it creates a time loop in which one can get lost quite easily. Thus, what we have heard a thousand times – that we hadn’t left the reflexes of our socialist past behind – becomes a contemporary experience causing actual physical symptoms. These reflexes are with us today, we are running around in circles, unable to break free.”
(Noémi Herczog, Élet és Irodalom)

“‘We, Hungarians are born observers.’ – says Sándor at a certain point in the story but this is more or less the last drop in that glistening pellucid glass reflecting our features, offering an opportunity to study them. Kristóf Kelemen’s Observers is a carefully calculated, succinct yet emotionally involving, unsettling account of what we inherited, what we have been wallowing in for decades and what we will most probably pass down to our progeny (...) It is high time to say out loud that the new generation is not at the gates but already on stage, and taking this crew as an example, I am happy to report they are more than ready.”
(Tamás Jászay, Revizor)

Hungarian Contemporary Drama Prize
Hungarian Theatre Critics’ Award for best new drama and best independent production, nomination for best set design
Halász Péter Prize, nomination

2019 – Thealter Festival, Szeged, Hungary
2019 – Palm Off Fest, Prague, Czech Republic
2019 – Fast Forward, Dresden, Germany
2020 – World Theatre in Sofia, digital edition, Bulgaria
2022 – Hungary Live Festival, New York, United States

Sándor Somogyi (secret agent „Romeo”): Dániel Baki
Michael Besenczy: Tamás Rétfalvi
Erzsi Rózsa (secret agent „Puma”)/ Comrade Pataki: Iringó Réti
Judit Sárközi: Bettina Józsa
Lieutenant Horváth: Péter Jankovics

Dramaturg: Tamás Turai
Visuals and Stage Designer: Zita Schnábel
Costumes Assistant: Letícia Bartos
Music: Péter Márton (Prell)
Video: Balázs Virág, Péter Gyenei
Research archive video materials: Orsolya Barna
Technical Manager: Ákos Lengyel
Assistant Director: Anita Totobé, Katinka Bordás
Actors’ coordination: Réka Judit Kiss, Eszter Szinai
English translation: Dávid Cseh
Production Manager: Judit Böröcz
Director and Writer: Kristóf Kelemen

Special thanks: Dávid Cseh, László Dinea, Péter Forgács – Private Photo and Film Foundation, Edit Kuti, Bence György Pálinkás, Tamás Szőnyei, Gábor Thury, Open Society Archive Budapest, FORTEPAN

Coproducers: Trafó House of Contemporary Arts, Orlai Productions, FÜGE Productions
Supporters: National Cultural Fund, Ministry of Human Capacities, Jurányi Art Incubator House, the Municipality of Budapest, Budapest City Branding Nonprofit Ltd., Staféta
The production was realized in the framework of the Staféta Program of the Municipality of Budapest. 
Kristóf Kelemen is supported through the Esztrád Theatre Grant Program.