Tamás Ascher


One of the foremost Chekhov interpreters of our times, Hungarian Tamás Ascher's Ivanov attracted packed houses and earned rave reviews at the 2009 Lincoln Center Festival, following a worldwide tour from Bogotá to Moscow, where it was awarded the Golden Mask Award for the best international production of the year. According to the New York Times' Jason Zinoman "(his) magnificent revival of Ivanov proves that, done properly, Chekhov shows it all, the ridiculous and the solemn, the soulful and the sexy, the discreet and, occasionally, the naked." It was following the short run of the same production for the Katona József Theatre at the Sydney Festival that STC invited the 60-year-old director to stage his first Uncle Vanya – one of the two full-length Chekhov plays he had not yet directed – in Australia. With Sydney Theatre Company's stellar cast this production was received with great enthusiasm by both critics and audiences, to quote the country's leading daily, the Australian: "Tamás Ascher's superb production of Uncle Vanya... is gloriously fresh, funny and poignant."
Mr. Ascher's Three Sisters played in repertory and enjoyed an extensive international tour between 1986 and 1992 with the magnificent cast of the Budapest Katona József Theatre. This production brought a real breakthrough beyond the borders of Hungary in the career of Mr. Ascher. Since then many of his productions have toured all over the world and Mr. Ascher has worked at many of the world's most prestigious theaters as a guest director including the Vienna Burgtheater (Gombrowicz's Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy, Ionesco's The Lesson and The Bald Soprano, Ostrovsky's The Forest), the Helsinki Swedish Theatre (Molière's Misanthrope among other productions), as well as the Berliner Ensemble and the Øslo National Theatre. He has also directed opera in Cluj in Romania, as well as in Budapest and Lyon.
Had Mr. Ascher been born with a less obscure mother tongue, it is a safe bet that Uncle Vanya would not be his first job in the Anglo-Saxon theater world. Given that he was, Uncle Vanya is his first production English speakers can enjoy without subtitles.
Coming from a country with a deep understanding of the absurd, Mr. Ascher is known for interpreting some of the greatest absurdist playwrights including the Polish Witold Gombrowicz (Yvonne), as well as Ionesco (The Lesson and The Bald Soprano--both of which he has uncharacteristically directed four times in the past 30 years, always as double bills), Beckett (Waiting for Godot, Happy Days) and Pinter (Homecoming), as well as one of the forerunners of the absurdist theater, the Austro-Hungarian Ödön von Horváth (Tales from the Vienna Woods, Kasimir and Karoline).
As one of the leading artists of the legendary regional theater in Kaposvár, Mr. Ascher's passion and gift for music brought a new understanding of the often boring and happily-pink operetta – an Austro-Hungarian invention with great music and lovelorn dukes falling for penniless entertainment girls – which educated broad audiences. The introduction of witty, zesty Western musicals (Chicago, Sweeney Todd), which barely escaped the censor's ban, was an instant hit with spectators who were earlier force-fed with Soviet partisan songs.
Nevertheless, it is his interpretations of Chekhov's great works for which the Hungarian director is most well-known, including Three Sisters, Ivanov and Platonov all with the Katona József Theatre. All of these works ran for five to eight years, changing and improving with passing time, maturing performances, national and international audience reactions-- a process only possible in a repertory system.
Mr. Ascher'smost recent work includes The Barbarians (Gorki), The Triumph of Love (Marivaux) (Katona József Theatre), Kaurismäki's La Bohème and the Tiger Lillies' Shockheaded Peter (Örkény Theatre). He holds the highest Hungarian state award, the Kossuth Award.
Since 2006 Mr. Ascher has been Dean of the Academy of Theatre and Film in Budapest. His appointment followed over two decades of teaching at the same school, where generations of theater-makers consider Tamás Ascher their first mentor.
Tamás Ascher