Ionesco saying Hey Cluj

Is the Hungarian language theatre for English speakers? Yes. Not only can you read English (and Romanian) subtitles but the announcements to take your seat before the performance and at the end of the break are also in three languages.  Anyway, the acting and design tends to be high enough quality, that you can often tell what is going on without knowing the words.

First a disclaimer. This isn’t a review of the show I saw. Directors and texts come and go, and whether or not I like a particular story is irrelevant to the quality of a theatre.  Also, I am not familiar with the original play by Ionesco.

Okay, now to review the theatre itself.

Talented professionals, excellent quality

It was professional, talented cast and crew all around. The actors were convincing in their roles as street vendors, soldiers, witches, royals nobles. In the final curtain call, when many were dressed in street clothes, you could recognise who played what character, but it was like they transformed from the larger than life, theatre of the absurd characters of Ionesco’s (see disclaimer) play, to the ordinary people who were taking the bow. Ordinary people who had developed a talent for acting that allowed them to be someone else on stage, convincingly.
And while their talent alone could have pulled off the trick, the costumes and sets were also phenomenal.

The price is a bargain, at 40 lei full price and lower for concessions. (50 lei for other plays, perhaps Ionescu is discounted because of his Romanian links). This theatre must be heaving subsidised, not only because of the highly professional level of acting, but also the costumes, props, music, everything about the place was more than you would expect on stage in Britain. Even with the lower prices of things in Romania, it was like seeing a Cinema 4D show. It reminded me of France, the quality was that good.

If your taxes are paying for it, might as well see it, right?

Was the realism too good?

Some aspects of the realism might put off a few people.


The sirens were almost like real bomb shelter sirens of the Second World War. Yes, the people in front of me were also holding their ears at one point.

smell büdös?

A couple of the characters smoke on stage, and the first time you can smell the tobacco. But if I can smell the tobacco when a cigarette is lit on stage, that probably meant the theatre was clean.
(With the trailers, it appears that characters smoke in other plays. Maybe the tobacco companies are subsidising part of the costume budget). My biggest worry here is that the actors might lose their voices prematurely due to lung cancer. That would be a real shame, those rare talents could grace theatre, film and radio for a long time if kept healthy.

But when the witches fart, oh, don’t worry, you don’t smell those farts. The acting is enough to know what is going on without that cinema 5d effect.


The third thing, which adds to the realism perhaps a bit too much, is when some of the characters, in military costume, walk through the aisles with realistic machine guns in their hands. These guns appear to point at the audience, and Americans or war vets who have been around real guns might react a bit more than others.

Thankfully another character already walked down the aisle selling lemonade, breaking the fourth wall as a warning of what was to come. Oh, I wanted some lemonade.

Quality of subtitles.

The play itself was well enough acted and designed to follow without knowing the actual words. I still read the subtitles, because I’m one of those people who like to know every detail of what is happening.

The subtitles were easy to read on large screens on both sides of the performance. 

Hopefully in a few months my Hungarian will be good enough not to be tempted to look at the subtitles on either side.

For a moment, the English subtitles were replaced by Hungarian subtitles. Perhaps the characters were speaking English at that time, but I found myself reading the Romanian subtitles.  But it was very brief and the sentiment was obvious from the performance.

Added Swearing in subtitles?

There was some added swearing in the English subtitles that wasn’t in the Romanian translation.

But there was not as much of that here as there is in the subtitling of many Romanian films.

Seating and building

I could see well from my seat about halfway between the stage and the exit. The chair was comfortable, not falling apart, the exits seemed safe and I would not be worried about leaving in an emergency.  The toilets were clean as was the building in general. (If you are surprised that I am not taking these things for granted, then you haven’t lived in Europe very long. There was a free film screening at the university that was none of these things. And don’t get me started on the UK).

I did not have to tilt to the side, but the people in front of me seemed to adjust their head a few times in order to see around the people in front of them. Or maybe it was in order to get away from the prop guns.

Overall, I would recommend finding out what is showing, and if you find a play that you want to see, give the theatre a try. The designers and actors are very talented, so you will probably enjoy it.

For an absurd effect, this post links to itself.

Review – The Hungarian Theatre in Cluj

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