National Theatre, Budapest, Hungary, 2006
Author: Heinrich von Kleist
Directed by Sándor Zsótér

about the production

As if Sándor Zsótér were inspired by Kleist´s meditation “On Puppet Theatre” when staging his Penthesilea. The audience finds itself in front of a huge round picture, a landscape, suggesting Feszty´s panoramic tondo from the turn of the 19th century, which depicts arrival of the Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. In front of it a classical drama of passion and death takes place, written by one of the most distinguished German classics who, even many decades after his suicide in the age of 34, had his place in the shadow of the writers of the 19th century. The actors are more like puppets who are lead by some invisible power.

According to Kleist´s words, the Penthesilea hides his innermost nature, “all the filth and all the shine” of his soul. Penthesilea is a battlefield where enemies meet: sense and sensitivity, rationalism of enlightenment with romanticism, “I” with the rest of the world, male and female principle. It seems that the unity is possible only after death – not in the worldly, but in heavenly life, as the closing song “ Das himmlische Leben” from Mahler´s Symphony No.4 says. Zsótér´s view on the Kleist´s play is drama full of insolvable opposites. Achilles and Queen of Amazons Penthesilea fight each other in the Trojan War. The war is not only a fight for power, it is also a metaphor of never-ending fight between sexes. A man and a woman are fatally attracted to each other, but they can never reach the harmony of unity of opposites. In the battlefield, there are the private and the public, the individual and the impersonal standing against each other. The belonging to society makes the understanding of uniqueness of individualism, whose conflict lies in the unfulfilling of our own needs, impossible.

Then we could also see a minimalist monumental drama unveiling the darkness of human soul. Zsótér does not need great gestures, quick changes of scenes, psychological moments. Emotions are stronger because the actors do not play them outwards. With almost rational accuracy they express the drama of the characters that takes place somewhere inside.

Zsótér let the great Kleist´s verse to speak, this drama which lies in the power of a word. The dramatic does not exhibit here, it speaks, and by this, the audience’s imagination is given a space. Sándor Zsótér is one of the most distinguished Hungarian middle generation directors. His production of the play by Hans Henny Jahn Medea was presented at the Divadelná Nitra in 2003. What does connect our times with the times of Kleist´s? Isn’t it only a general feeling of disillusion from the inability to solve conflicts? Kleist, unlike Goethe, who did not recognize his dramas, shook the ideal of harmony and unity.  His characters are contradictory beings who, within the circle of repeating history – as it is suggested in Feszty´s tondo – reflect us, the audience. It is because we sit in a semicircle which is completed by the one on the stage.
Martina Vannayová

According to András Csont, one of the most beautiful scenes is the final (love) fight between Achilles and Pethesilea. “Dance is a unity of delight and death, it is a play with fire as well as patting of children in love – Achilles is decorated with roses reminding of red bites.”
(András Csont, Színház)

The visual metaphor of roses is the most gripping part of the production. “The roses represent arrows, the roses cause injuries, they are a sign of ragged bloody body. The rose without the stem in a mouth, or the rose with the stem in trousers is being erotic and stigmatizes death forever.”
(Tamás Koltai, Éret és irodalom)


directed by Sándor Zsótér
set design: Mária Ambrus
costume design: Mari Benedek
dramaturgist: Júlia Ungár
assistant director: Zsuzsa Bencze
characters and cast:
Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons: Orsi Tóth, Prothoe: Andrea Söptei, Female captain: Mária Varga, Diana’s high priestess: Kati Andai, Terpi: Andrea Moldvai Kiss, Achilles: Zsolt László, Odysseus: András Stohl,  Captain: Róbert Marton, Anti: Zoltán Schmied


Sándor Zsotér (1961)


In 1983 he graduated from the Theatre and Film Academy in Budapest where he studied dramaturgy. He worked as a dramaturg, played in films, but he is mainly concentrated on theatre and opera directing. He is a lecturer at the Theatre and Film Academy in Budapest. He prepared various productions with several Hungarian theatres (National Theatre, Miskolc; National Theatre, Szeged; Katona József Theatre, Budapest; Radnóti Miklós Theatre, Academy of Performing Arts, Vígszínház Theatre, Thália Studio, Krétakör). Very often he has directed Brecht (The Good Person of Sechuan, The Life of Galileo, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Mother Courage and Her Children, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, In the Jungle of the Cities), Sarah Kane (Cleansed, Crave, Phaedra’s Love) and other authors (Shakespeare, Britten, Jahnn, Kleist, Schiller, Maeterlinck, Ibsen, Örkény, Rostand, Genet, Büchner, etc.). He was awarded prizes of theatre critics for the best direction and production: Brecht´s The Life of Galileo, National Theatre in Szeged (2002); H. H. Jahnn´s Medea (Divadelná Nitra 2003), Radnóti Miklós Theatre (2003); Brecht´s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Vígszínház (2004).
For new theatrical language he obtained several prizes in Hungary and abroad: 1998 – the Jaszai Award, 2001 – Award for the best direction and production (Euripides´s Bacchants, Katona József Színház, Budapest) at the International Theatre Festival of Fringe Theatres in Rijeka, Croatia, 2003 – the Soros Prize, 2004 – the Nadasdy Kalman Prize for operatic directions, 2006 – the Kossuth Prize.




Materials available

Script of the production: SK, EN

If you are interested in these materials, write to