Edinburgh – History History History

During this performance of History History History, Deborah Pearson talks about how compassion and censorship have shaped our perception of history. She describes her grandfather who starred in the 1956 Hungarian film that plays behind her; she promised she would omit anything negative about him.  This is a film that has been censored, edited and reworked. The screenwriter’s name has been expunged.  Can we fully appreciate the historical context today?

The format is fascinating,  innovative and highly effective. The film, which is engaging in its own right and concerns a pen salesman posing as a famous footballer, plays in real time on the full size cinema screen behind her. Periodically she breaks into the film with personal stories, interviews with her grandmother, and explanations on an overhead projector. She discusses how we are all products of every unique event that has come before us.

My mother left Hungary as a refugee not in 1956 but around the Siege of Budapest in 1945, another Russian onslaught.  I too look for answers in the past but come across both missing information and reconstructed histories that try to make sense of horrific acts.

The Hungarian Uprising of 1956 against the USSR, which led to one of the largest refugee crises of the century, was fought to begin with from the cinema in Corvin, Budapest. 

By not passing on language or culture we don’t understand the truth, argues the narrator. We rely on the personal interpretation of vague memories.  Different people, in her case her mother and grandmother, recall fractured memories that differ with time, place and location.  Sometimes we choose not to talk about the truth and make up alternative realities that are easier and less painful to comprehend.

I find that even photographs cannot tell a true story. The past is posed and edited, tidied and reframed. Becoming a refugee, arriving in a new country (Canada, for her grandparents or the UK for my mother) and being unable to speak the language redefines the person. For Deborah’s grandfather the change is ultimately from film star to security guard. Can we fill in the gaps to understand what went through that person’s mind?

As the film progresses Deborah makes up her own translation of the dialogue and in her own way redefines history.  Who ultimately has the right to write history?  Surely not only the victors.  A completely engaging performance that asks important questions on how we find truth in history,  and whether we always want to find the truth.

Cameo Picturehouse Edinburgh 4-8 Aug 17.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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