In 1964 Oxford, a Hungarian artist collapses when hearing gun shots whilst painting a portrait. His left side remains paralysed although there is nothing physically wrong with him. Unable to paint, Sandor consults a psychotherapist who succeeds in uncovering a 50-year old secret. In 1914 four young idealistic artists in Budapest vow to restore independence to Hungary by assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Meanwhile, in Belgrade ‘The Black Hand’ plots to overthrow the Habsburg Empire by assassinating the Archduke during his visit in Sarajevo. “The Black Hand” succeeds in killing the heir to the Habsburg throne which leads to the slaughter of millions.
This impressive new play by debut writer Jeremy James tells the story of four Hungarian idealists who believe in their cause and are willing to die for it. Tired of being dominated by Austria, they strive for an independent Hungary that will then dominate the ethical minorities who make up more than half of the population. The Archduke has promised to grant the Slavs independence once he becomes Emperor which jars with both the Hungarians, who now rule over the Slavs, and the Serbian nationalists who are dreaming of a Slavic nation dominated by Serbia. Although our sympathies lie with the Hungarians, it is quite clear that their actions are guided by blind nationalism, just as those of the leaders of “The Black Hand”, Apis and Tankosic, who dream of a greater Serbia. Whereas the Hungarians are well organised and willing to risk their own lives for their cause, Apis has Tankosic hire a bunch of Bosnian Serbs who are passionate about their mission but prove to be completely incompetent. Apis and Tankosic are painted as ruthless and cruel characters, who use Bosnian patriots as tools to reach their objective without risking their own lives in the process. The scenes in which Tankosic informs Apis about another failure provide the necessary comic relief in this intense drama.
Andrew Shepherd’s production jumps back and forth between the different time periods, whilst the aging Sandor begins to remember the events of 1914 which led to a horrible tragedy. Tony Wredden convinces as the guilt-stricken older Sandor who lives through his art but is still dreaming of a free Hungary. Jesse DeCoste is Sandor’s younger self, fresh faced and full of passion to make Hungary great again, together with his comrades in arms: the womanising libertine Tibor (Robert Wilde) who tries to emulate Klimt’s lifestyle, the level headed Ede (Alexander Stutt), and the gifted Medve (Emma Mulkern), a young woman who disguises herself as a man to be able to work as an artist. Alexander Nash is chilling and funny in equal measure as Colonel Apis fuming over the incompetence of his hired hands. Mark Joseph is very good as his assistant Major Tankosic, showing an aptitude for callousness and cruelty equal to his master. Angela Dixon is professional and caring as Margit, the psychoanalyst.
The stage is divided into a section of a living room where Sandor receives his treatment, an artist’s studio represented by a collage of photographs and paintings in the centre, and a small space, dark and sinister, as the headquarters of “The Black Hand” (stage design by Zahra Mansouri). Music by Dimitri Scarlato adds to the atmospheric play.
An intriguing story, beautifully told and another triumph for ACS Random.
Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin
Photo: David Monteith-Hodge
The Cause is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 26 March