Paul Anderson, review of Have by Julius Hay (Royal Shakespeare Company, Barbican Pit), Tribune, 8 February 1990

The Hungarian dramatist Julius Hay served two stretches as a political prisoner, first in thirties Austria for communist subversion, then in fifties Hungary for his prominent “anti-communist” role in the 1956 revolution.

He started to write Have during his first spell inside. It is a naturalist morality play about poverty, based on the true story of Tiszazug, a Hungarian village where, it, was discovered in – the twenties, generations of peasant women had murdered hus bands and other relatives by administering arsenic.

Have offers a simple Marxist interpretation, in which the women are motivated by material greed. Theirs is an individualist response to severe poverty, when what is really needed is. collective action to secure land reform.

Thus Mari, a poor servant girl made pregnant by Dani, a lowly policeman, marries Neighbour David, the richest local peasant, after she is initiated into the village women’s secret by Mrs Kepes, the midwife.

Mari kills her husband on their wedding night but her consumptive stepdaughter, Zsofi, knows the truth and, fearing disinheritance, resolves to eliminate her.

Mari takes up again with Dani; but, suspecting foul play in Neighbour David’s death and hungry for promotion, starts snooping around. The village women, believing Mari’s over-hasty murder has put them all in danger of discovery, disown her. Isolated, Mari poisons Zsofi. We leave her confessing her crimes to Dani, who prepares to shop her.

The indiciment of greed could not be more stark, but Have is not quite simplistic agitprop. The characters are complex, and the message that collective action is the way to improve the peasant’s lot is never more than implicit.

This production, directed by Janice Honeyman, is well acted, with excellent costumes and a sparse, elegant mud-spattered set. It provides a welcome introduction to a playwright whose work is largely unknown here. More please.

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