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Marijan Varjačić-Glumački ansambl

Marijan Varjačić


Acting Ensemble
(Historical Overview)

The observed period goes back 125 years, from the founding of the first professional ensemble in 1898. Two approaches can be observed in the formation and operation of the acting ensemble: high fluctuation, changes of ensemble members from season to season, even during the season, and retention of the backbone or the majority of the members of the acting company for a longer period. The reasons for the principle of fluctuation or constancy were, as a rule, practical in the first case, a way of acting, and in the second case artistic in nature, and then practical. A large fluctuation is characteristic of the older age, up to ten years after the Second World War. Performances were rarely repeated, every season there are numerous new titles in the repertoire for which new actors are sought who have studied roles for the planned repertoire or are specialized in the types of roles that correspond to the planned repertoire (e.g. the type of young hero, lover, old woman, etc.). In the Varaždin ensemble, during the directorship of Andrija Mitrović, in seven seasons (1915 – 1922), none of the hundred actors acted in all seven seasons, and most were engaged for one, two or three seasons. The booklet of the actor Vatroslav Hladić, Actor’s Records (1944), who was a member of the Varaždin theatre for a time, is instructive about the way the ensemble worked in the old days. The high turnover of actors even after, until the mid-1950s, was often justified by the expectations of the audience, which likes a new face. Starting from the artistic and other interests of the actors, some still advocate greater turnover in the theatres.

The principle of a standing ensemble was established in the mid-1950s (with the arrival of actors and directors who were students of Branko Gavella to Varaždin, then during the directorship of Petar Veček). The relative stability of the ensemble remains a characteristic to this day. This principle seemed to be in agreement with some tendencies in the European theatre (Brook, Grotowski). Some directors gathered more or less permanent groups of artists in which family relations developed, so to speak. We see the originators of this tendency in the artistic zealots in Russia, and in Varaždin the actor and director Branko Tepavac made a similar attempt as early as 1925. At least partial permanence of the ensemble is imposed today also because of this, as plays are usually played for several seasons. In conclusion: in addition to a permanent ensemble, a permanent renewal of the ensemble is necessary, especially with young actors. This is also confirmed by the historical experience in the Varaždin theatre.

Since the beginning of the professional theatre in Varaždin, more than 300 actors have been hired, and for some performances, guest actors and artists from other areas have been hired. We don’t even have basic biographical information about some actors from older periods. Information for most of the protagonists can be found in the book Varaždin Theatre Centuries (Varjačić, 2007.113-141.).

In the first Varaždin ensemble (1898 – 1899), there were 15 actors at the beginning, and a total of 30 of them acted, not counting the guests. As guests, Andrija Fijan (one of the greatest Croatian actors of all time), Sofija Borštnik and Ljerka Šram, according to many the most beautiful Croatian actress in history, the audience’s favorite (and A. G. Matoš’s).

In the second ensemble (1899 – 1900), there were also 15 actors, and Marija Ružička-Strozzi, Ljerka Šram (in three plays), Mila Dimitrijević, Ignjat Borštnik and Vera Hržić, all champions of the National Theatre in Zagreb, acted as guests. (today HNK / Croatian National Theatre). Marija Ružička-Strozzi acted at the ceremonial opening of the theatre building in Varaždin in 1873 and at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the building in 1923.

In the ensemble of the permanent theatre, 1915 – 1925, a total of 112 actors acted, almost an equal number of women and men. We highlight those who have achieved remarkable careers in Croatia and abroad, and who began their affirmation in Varaždin. Zvonimir Rogoz (played about 70 roles in Varaždin, later in Ljubljana and Prague, shot about 50 films, 25 before the Second World War), August Cilić (one of the greatest Croatian comedians, played over 100 roles in Varaždin, celebrated the 25th anniversary of his work in 1939, which was organized by a special civic committee), Ančica Mitrović (singer and actress, continued her career in Maribor and Germany, in Leipzig and Darmstadt), Viktor August Bek (studied acting and directing in Vienna, directed two plays in Varaždin after the Second World War), Branko Tepavac (played around 30 roles and directed 22 plays in Varaždin, died at forty, considered one of the most gifted Croatian actors, followed some principles of Stanislavski in directing). Prominent Croatian actors were Alfred Grünhud, Dejan Dubajić, Margita Belassa-Dubajić, Josip Martinčević (born in Varaždin), Đuro Trbuhović and Julija Kučera.

In the period from 1945 to 1973, 123 actors were hired in Varaždin. During the first ten seasons (1945 – 1955), the dominant personality was the actor and director Milan Drašković. In that period, there was a great fluctuation of actors, and the most prominent and upward actors were Bogumila Nučić-Vojković (In 1945 she was forced to leave the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, where, for example, she played Ophelia, alongside Vika Podgorska, and her drama Kantina was in the official repertoire of the Croatian National Theatre), Nevenka Stazić, Adela Špac-Franjković, Zvonko Đukez, Eugen Franjković, Antun Kujavec, Milivoj Presečki, Krunoslav Škarica. In the first season, Franjo Majetić was a member of the ensemble, who would return to Varaždin in 1968. At the end of that period, Smiljka Bencet and Zvonko Torjanac joined.

In most of the next decade (1956 – 1963), the leading role in the ensemble was played by young actors who came to Varaždin after graduating from the Academy at the instigation of Branko Gavella: Ivo Serdar, Branka Lončar, Žuža Egreny, Sanda Langerholz, Martin Sagner, Ivo Rogulja, Martin Bahnec and Zvonimir Jurić. During that entire period, Zvonko Torjanac was in the ensemble, and for the most part Božena Weiss Torjanac, Tomislav Lipljin, Ema Majetić, Melita Puss and Rudolf Posavec.

In the period from 1963 (abolition of the musical branch and drama for one year) to 1976, the most prominent members of the acting ensemble were Franjo Majetić, Nevenka Stazić, Mirko Švec, Smiljka Bencet, Ljudevit Gerovac, Antonija Ćutić, Mato Dumančić, Ivan Lovriček and, already engaged, Tomislav Lipljin.

In the period from 1976 to 1990 (the period of Petar Veček’s directorship and the post-Veček period), Jagoda Kralj Novak and Ljubomir Kerekeš joined the ensemble, who would soon become leaders of the repertoire and remain so until today or yesterday. In the same period, Ivica Plovanić particularly asserted himself. In addition to the aforementioned, the actors were: Tomislav Lipljin, Ljudevit Gerovac, Mirjana Sinožić, Dušan Đakula, Marija Geml, Čedomir Vujić, Nikolaj Popović, Marija Ivezić, Vesna Stilinović, Gordana Slivka, Katja Zupčić, Zvonko Jelačić Bužimski and Ljiljana Plavšić-Jelačić. Young actors were engaged for a short time: Darko Ćurdo, Franjo Kuhar, Zlatko Ožbolt, Biserka Fatur and Boris Mirković. At the end of that period, Stojan Matavulj joined and remains a member of the ensemble to this day. Vanja Drach, Božidar Alić, Zlatko Vitez, Božidar Smiljanić, Vlatko Dulić, Marija Danira, Drago Meštrović, Ranko Stojić, Željko Mavrović and Vinko Lisjak acted as guest actors.

In the period from 1990 to 2005, there was a continuous renewal and rejuvenation of the ensemble, which included: Barbara Rocco, Matija Prskalo, Sunčana Zelenika, Ljiljana Bogojević, Igor Mešin, Robert Plemić, Zvonko Zečević, Marinko Prga, Alen Liverić, Zoran Ćubrilo, Edvin Liverić, Berislav Tomčić and Ines Bojanić. Zdenko Brlek and Darko Plovanić become permanent members of the ensemble. The addition of new members had a synergistic effect on the ensemble as a whole and individuals. It is characteristic that numerous guest actors were hired in the same period. Especially young guest actors bring liveliness to the ensemble, and excellent older actors leave a lasting mark on the ensemble and the Theatre in general. Already established actors acted as guests: Zlatko Vitez, Slavko Brankov, Darko Milas, Damir Lončar, Božidar Boban, Ivo Rogulja, Ivan Lovriček, Božidar Smiljanić, Sreten Mokrović, Goran Navojec, Boris Miholjević, Senka Bulić, Zoran Pokupec, Siniša Popović, Hrvoje Klobučar, Mijo Pavelko, Draško Zidar, Igor Golub. As guests, more or less peers of the newly engaged members performed: Krešimir Mikić, Rakan Rushaidat, Goran Grgić, Barbara Živković, Vedran Mlikota, Tomislav Novinšćak, Zlatica Mamuzić, Scilla Barath-Bastaić, Nataša Dangubić, Jelena Miholjević.

 From 2006 to 2023, the majority are members of the ensemble from the previous period. The most significant additions were Hana Hegedušić, Ivica Pucar and Karlo Mrkša. Beti Lučić also joins the permanent engagement. Several young actors were engaged for a short time, such as Leona Paraminski and Jan Kerekeš. Nikša Eldan, Filip Eldan, Elizabeta Brodić, Dea Presečki, Marko Cindrić, Marinko Leš, Helena Minić Matanić, Robert Španić were recently engaged, which significantly renewed the ensemble. In the period from 2006, the following actors acted as guests: Branko Šturbej, Vid Balog, Igor Golub, Mijo Pavelko, Goran Koši, Mladen Vasary, Katarina Arbanas, Sreten Mokrović, Alma Prica, Franjo Kuhar, Stjepan Perić, Đorđe Kukuljica, Anđelko Petrić, Šiško Horvat Majcan, Zoran Kelava, Karolina Horvat, Goran Guksić, Nikša Eldan, Filip Eldan, Dora Fishter Toš, Jelena Vukmirica, Željko Mavrović, Nancy Abdel Sakhi, Matko Buvač, Denis Bosak, Robert Španić, Ana Kraljević, Zoran Kelava, Kristijan Potočki, Vicko Bilandžić, Bernard Tomić, Iva Babić, Otokar Levaj, Miran Kurspahić, Robert Kurbaša, Ivana Zanjko, Petra Kurtela, Dunja Fajdić, Peđa Gvozdić, Žarko Savić, Janko Popović Volarić, Judita Franković and others.


Varaždin’s National Champions

Jagoda Kralj Novak and Ljubomir Kerekeš are the biggest acting names in the history of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin. Both started their careers in one of the happiest periods of that history, in the second half of the 1970s. In total, both of them played almost 200 roles in Varaždin. All the great moments of the theatre in the last almost five decades are connected with their achievements. Both have long belonged to the Croatian acting elite, which is confirmed by the recognition of the status of national champions. Both are winners of numerous awards, of which the highest national award, the Vladimir Nazor Award stands out.


Acting as a Total Act

Jagoda Kralj Novak (Varaždin, 1953), was engaged from 1973 until her retirement in 2018. She acted in more than 120 plays in Varaždin, the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, Gavella Drama Theatre in Zagreb, Zagreb Youth Theatre and Mala scena. She acted in TV dramas and series and in films. More important roles in Varaždin: Marica, The Lordly Child by K. Mesarić; Regina, Jalnuševčani by M. Jurić Zagorka; Roža, Master of His Own Body by S. Kolar; Mollie Rolsto, The Mousetrap by A. Christie; Lucrezia, Mandragola by N. Machiavelli; Bride, A Respectable Wedding by B. Brecht; Grete, Exercises at the Goethe-Institut by I. Bakmaz; Genja, Emerički by M. Krleža; Masha, A. P. Chekhov’s Seagull; Claudine, George Dandin by Molière; Herkulica, Authentic Experiences with Dogs by I. Bakmaz; Agnes, Molière’s School for Women; Varja, The Cherry Orchard by A. P. Chekhov; Margareta, Faust by S. Schneider; Bobočka, Return of Philip Latinowicz by M. Krleža; Eva, I. Bergman’s Autumn Sonata; Karolina, Kasimir and Karoline by Ö. von Horváth; Dunya, Crime and Punishment by F. M. Dostoevsky; Eleonore, Kasimir and Karolina by Ö. von Horváth, Tango by S. Mrožek; Petra von Kant, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant by R. W. Fassbinder; Jarmila Hašek, Experiences of the Good Writer Hašek by H. Hitrec and D. Ruljančić; Elizabeta Bam, Elizaveta Bam by D. Harms; Chirinos, Theatre of Miracles by Cervantes – Arrabal; Jedviga Jesenska, On the Edge of Reason by M. Krleža; Nikoleta, Ilija Kuljaš by Molière; Elizabeta, Elizabeta, Almost Accidentally the Wife by D. Fo; Anka, Kraljevo by M. Krleže; Ona, The Last Link by L. Kaštelan; Eleanor, The Lion in Winter by J. Goldman; Ljubica Ružićeva, Ljubica by A. Šenoa; Jocasta, Oedipus by Sophocles; Celia Peachum, The Threepenny Opera by B. Brecht – K. Weill; Laura Lembach, In the Agony by M. Krleža; Juliška, Family in Dust by N. Mitrović.

From Greta in Exercises at the Goethe-Institut, through Elizaveta Bam in Elizaveta Bam, to Juliška in Family in Dust, Jagoda Kralj Novak affects the viewer with the same energy, the same power of acting and expression. Her acting energy is not only connected with physicality, but in a special way with speech, in which her whole being seems to flow; her acting is, as Grotowski would say, a total act.


The Unity of the Tragic and the Comic

Ljubomir Kerekeš (Varaždin, 1960) was permanently engaged in Varaždin from 1980 to 1984. After being engaged in the Kerempuh Satirical Theatre, from 1994 to 1996, from 1996 to 2014, a member of the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb with the status of Drama champion. From 2014 to the present day, he has again been involved in Varaždin. Acted in TV dramas and series and in over twenty films. More important roles in Varaždin: Matej, G. Stefanovski’s Hi-Fi; Shizofrenik, Wedding by R. Šelig; Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov, The Brothers Karamazov by F. M. Dostoevsky; Jakov, The Midnight Game by D. Jelačić Bužimski; Raskolnikov, Crime and Punishment by F. M. Dostoevsky; Jaroslav Hašek, Experiences of the Good Writer Hašek by H. Hitrec and D. Ruljančić; Ivan Ivanovič, Elizaveta Bam by D. Harms; Ivač, (medieval French farce Bogi Ivač / Poor Ivač); Military Quartermaster, Zapo, Theatre of Miracles by Cervantes – Arrabal; Emperor Leopold, Zrinski by T. Strozzi; Grabancijaš-Grabo, Ilija Kuljaš by Molière; Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing by W. Shakespeare; Štijef, Kraljevo by M. Krleža; Jedermann-Vsakovič, Jedermann or Vsakovič / Everyman by H. von Hofmannsthal; Serres, It’s a Sad Sunday by P. Müller; Hamlet, Hamlet by W. Shakespeare; Favorin, Saint Aleksi / Saint Alexis by T. Brezovački; Flute, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by W. Shakespeare; Jakob, Master of His Own Body by S. Kolar; Odysseus, Philoctetes by Sophocles.

The special thing that Ljubomir Kerekeš as an actor brought to the Croatian theatre is an inimitable feeling for the unity of the tragic and the comic; his creations (not only in the Kajkavian dialect repertoire) testify that funny and serious are opposites that, however, cannot be understood without each other. The connection and mixing of the comic with the humanly serious and fateful, with true tragedy, is especially evident in the Kajkavian dialect repertoire. The Kajkavian world speaks in the Kajkavian language; the spirit that forms in Kajkavian connects joking (in the broadest sense of the word) and seriousness. Kerekeš achieved his unique balancing act between the tragic and the comic in many roles, from Hašek and Jedermann / Everyman to Henry IV to Count Ferdinand and Jakob Pavunčec. With his works, Kerekeš shows that the mother tongue plays an irreplaceable role in the theatre as well.