Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Part of Summerhall’s Czech season, Antiwords is an absurd piece inspired by the works of Václav Havel’s play Audience. Two young female performers, two giant masks and a crate of beer make for an engaging performance.
Václav Havel’s Audience (1975) features a character called Ferdinand Vanĕk who is arguably representative of Havel himself. Vanĕk is a dissident playwright whose writing has been banned by the ruling Communist regime and as a result he is forced to work in a brewery. In Havel’s play, Vanĕk enters into a lengthy, rambling dialogue with the owner of the brewery. Here in Antiwords, two young performers play with the characters of Vanĕk and the brewmaster and their dialogue.
Two women enter dressed in identical outfits. They smile at the audience. They maintain eye contact with us for a disconcerting amount of time. They move almost in unison, but it soon becomes clear that one of them is slightly behind the other, trying desperately to keep up. Each girl places a beer between her legs and proceeds to open it, after a few attempts, with the bottle opener she is wearing on a necklace around her neck. They each drink their whole bottle of beer in one gulp. They move to the table where they put on suit jackets and giant bronze masks of bald men’s heads.
What follows is a series of rather baffling but highly amusing events, where the performers constantly swop characters, repeat the same verbal and physical sequences, and remove their masks to smile mischeviously at the audience. One of the performers is still struggling to keep up, particularly with the excessive drinking of beer. Recorded dialogue is played in Czech and subtitled in English, and the repetition of certain key phrases accompanied by stylised physical actions (“Have a beer?”) is very effective.
The audience certainly seem to enjoy the piece, particularly a gentleman in the front row who is given a beer to drink. The actresses are both charismatic physical performers. The piece doesn’t rely on knowledge of Havel or Communist Czechoslovakia to be appreciated, but perhaps some prior knowledge would aid with understanding what they want the audience to take away from the performance and the comment they are making on Havel and his work.