Prague Fringe 2017
A poignant, engaging dramatisation of artists’/writers’ internal, ethical struggle to ‘do the right thing’ when working within the political spectrum.
The setting for this ‘apartment’ play was perfect. The Misenska cafe has a basement bar and theatre which made for an almost ideal recreation of Havel’s (and number of other dissidents’) idea to perform their politically sensitive plays in friends’ and sympathiser’s living rooms. This, I was recently told, is still a common practice in Iran where females may not play music in public by law.
This is the first occasion I have had to see a Fringe play drawn from an original script of a famous author which has not been ‘adapted’ in some peculiar way but was played ‘straight’.
The performance was excellent and managed to bring to the surface all of the nuanced anxieties of that period in time in a very tangeable way. The subject matter touches on corrupt government. Although the implied connection from then to know doesn’t quite match up to the current situation in the West, since ‘signing’ petitions these days is as easy, common and virtually anonymous as ‘liking’ something on Facebook, the act is strong enough to transport us to bygone Czechoslovakian times and have us reflect on the more recent authoritarian issues in Iran, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, North Korea, Turkmenistan…the list unfortunately goes on.
And so here we are invited to listen in on a private discussion between a Czech dissident and a more popularly established celebrity of the time. The encouragement of the other’s involvment in an anti-governmental issue is what drives the tense and often humorous conversation.
Drew Valins embodied the quintessential 70s Czech male (this role of Vanek incidentally had been played by Vaclav Havel himself a number of times.)
Drew is calm, reserved and yet simmering with intent while David Millstone plays with relish the bolstering, self important fop with a conscience Mr. Stanek.
The subtle atmospheric shifts on a turn of phrase or a gesture juggle the audience delicately towards a truly powerful and unexpected conclusion.
One can vividly imagine being coaxed and teased by the performers into action during those days of the secret police and fearful acquiescence.
Susan Galbraith’s direction is understated and entirely appropriate for the ‘underground’ scenario. The conflict in the play reached every member of the audience and certainly forced us to once again ask “What can WE do as individuals to effect positive change in a world that’s going to hell?”