I have never been to the Linbury Studio Theatre before. I don’t know why, but I found it slightly disturbing to realise how deep underground we were. Filing in from the very top of the theatre and down the stairs one by one was like climbing down into a pit. It made me feel like things were somehow upside down, and that we were all even further removed from the real world and its rules than I normally am in a theatre. The word bowels kept popping into my mind. As in bowels of the earth, bowels of the opera house, bowels. My strange mood fit well with the atmosphere Les Corbeaux (The Crows).
Watching Les Corbeaux felt a bit like watching a poem or a man performing the act of making images. The movement and the sound are improvised but create imagery that is strong and draws on the archetypal: there is no wooliness about it, nothing superfluous. Nadj transforms bit by bit, becoming less human, more crow: the blackness, the detail of the rhythm and movement, its song, but also its role as wise sage and harbinger of death.
Josef Nadj is an intense and captivating performer, but also a visual artist with an eye for detail and observation. The images he creates are made of shadows, and also of the textures of canvas, of smooth, slow moving ink and black sand. The instruments that Akosh S. uses to make the crows ‘song’ are part of the set with their strange shapes made of wood, metal and skin. Even the two hanging light bulbs that move up and down, casting shadows against black walls and canvas, even they hang on a black pole twisted into shape. And the ink. The ink transforms Nadj’s body – beak; talons; sculpture. The ink marks, creating a painting that grows to become like dark crows in a wide landscape, growing and changing as Nadj-as-bird moves. Meanwhile Akosh S. carries on, at times appearing almost too absorbed in the crow’s song to notice what was happening on the stage. Although not to everyone’s taste, I quite liked the screeching and the shuddering deep tones and Akosh S.’s solid stage presence.
And if it is a poem about a crow, it is also a poem to the Hungarian countryside. Both men share this landscape, although they have both lived in Paris since 1980. If this performance is anything to go by, then Hungary feels wide and bleakly beautiful. The programme states that Josef Nadj was born in the former Yugoslavia to the Hungarian minority community. He left before Yugoslavia ceased to exist. What a complicated relationship to nationality that must be. Time and death, and even rebirth of a sort flowed through the piece. These men had been away from Hungary for a very long time, and they were no longer young.
Waiting for the post show talk, I sat watching the stage crew carefully scooping up the ink and pouring it back into the barrel. I left the Linbury thinking about the people I knew who I thought should see it, if only it were on for longer than two nights.