Hungarian puppet theatre founded in September 1949 in Budapest by the Mesebarlang troupe (Cave of Tales). In the era of State-owned theatres, and in contrast to most other communist countries until 1989, there was only one professional Hungarian theatre institute in operation. The Állami Bábszínház was heavily influenced by the Moscow-based Central Puppet Theatre of Sergei Obraztsov (see Gosudarstvenny Akademichesky Tsentralny Teatr Kukol imeni S.V. Obraztsova), who enjoyed worldwide fame, and it copied the Russian director’s highly successful productions for adults, also basing much of its repertoire for children on Obraztsov’s dramaturgical workshop. The dramatic successes of this period were: Sztárparádé (Star Parade, 1951) by Dénes Kovács, Albert Vajda and Szilárd Darvas; Csodálatos kalucsni (The Galoshes of Fortune, 1951) by Matveiev after Hans Christian Andersen; Szarvaskirály (The King Stag, 1951) by Jenő Heltai after Carlo Gozzi; New York, 42. utca (New York, 42nd Street, 1953) by János Erdődy; Szerelmes istenek (Gods in Love, 1955) by Szilárd Darvas and Béla Gádor after Beautiful Galatea by Franz von Suppé.
This situation began to change only in the early 1960s when, under the direction of Dezső Szilágyi (b.1922), the theatre became a national institution (there were seasons when it gave 1,400 to 1,500 performances in Budapest and across the country) as it tried to offset the ever more painful lack of a national network of theatre troupes. This former site of variety shows and cabaret acts became a venue for productions of high artistic and literary standards. Most of the plays were drawn from Hungarian and international folklore, fairy tales by Hungarian authors, and theatrical adaptations of the world’s great stories and legends, designed for audiences of children and young people.
The programme for adults included Szentivánéji álom (1964), a puppet version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, followed by adaptations of musical works: A fából faragott királyfi (1965) based on Béla Bartók’s The Wooden Prince, and Bartók’s A csodálatos mandarin (The Miraculous Mandarin, 1969); Petruska (Petrushka, 1965) and A katona története (The Soldier’s Tale, 1976) of Igor Stravinsky; Zoltán Kodály’s Háry János (1972). Besides classic Hungarian works by Mihály Vörösmarty, Sándor Petőfi, and János Arany, 20th century playwrights and works of composers were also performed: Jelenet szöveg nélkül (1966 and 1979), based on Samuel Beckett’s Act Without Words, I and II; Słavomir Mrożek’s Strip-tease (1966); Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Angyal szállt le Babilonban (An Angel Comes to Babylon, 1967); Benjamin Britten’s A pagodák hercege (The Prince of the Pagodas, 1970). This trend was further developed with Tchaikovsky’s Diótörő (The Nutcracker, 1978), Nikolai Gogol’s Az orr (The Nose, 1979), Stravinsky’s A tűzmadár (The Firebird, 1982), Pedro mester bábszínháza (Master Peter’s Puppet Show, 1982) by Manuel de Falla, and Übü király (King Ubu, 1985) based on Ubu roi of Alfred Jarry.
In 1971, a complete renovation of the theatre began and the company produced their plays at Budapest’s Jokái Square until 1976 when the troupe took possession of its new home in its old locale. However, since 1976, performances are given on both sites, with the Jókai Square premises operating as a studio theatre and the national section functioning as a puppeteer training centre.
In the early 1970s, the Állami Bábszínház entered the international arena and soon achieved a European standard of excellence. Dezső Szilágyi directed the theatre from 1958 to 1992.
The State Puppet Theatre was dissolved in 1992. However, the main building continued to function as the home of the Budapest Bábszínház (Budapest Puppet Theatre), while the studio theatre on Jókai Square handed over its premises to the Kolibri Theatre.
- Balogh, Géza, ed. Bábszínház, 1949-1999 [Puppet Theatre, 1949-1999]. With a study of Péter Molnár Gál. Budapest, 2000.
- Selmeczi, Elek. Világhóditó bábok [Puppets Conquering the World]. Budapest, 1986.
- Szilágyi, Dezső, ed. A mai magyar bábszínház [Hungarian Puppet Theatre Today]. Corvina Kiadó, Budapest, 1978.