The Problem with the space at the Pilsen festival
I was asked to come to the Festival Divadlo in Plzen this year to take part in a panel about Nordic Theatre following the presentation of Brím, a production by the Icelandic Theatre Company Vesturport, based in Reykjavik.
This invitation gave me the possibility to see some more performances, although I could not stay the whole festival to see everything. What I could see, however, was quite interesting and rewarding. In April this year I was invited to sit in the jury of the festival Kontrapunkt 2015 in Szczecin in Poland, so I had been given the chance to get some impressions of Polish theatre and the Polish theatre situation and could compare it to the international. The invitation to Plzen gave me a similar chance to see theatre from the Czech Repulic, as well as from Slovakia, and compare it to other international visiting production.
I had not been in the Czech Republic since I visited Prague in the year of 2000, when the Informal European Theatre Meeting (IETM) was taking place there. At that time I got the impression that some of the Czech theatre was striving to renew itself when it came to puppetry. This time I saw that Czech theatre is striving to come to grips with it´s avantgarde tradition from the 1960´s , which we in Norway had some access to because of visiting Czech directors and scenographers. My general impression had been that since this avantgarde, Czech theatre more or less had lost it´s impetous after the 1968 events, although I am sure that much high quaity theatre had been produced between then and now. But high quality does not always mean artistically interesting theatre. So, now, by coming to the Divadlo in Plzen I got the chance to update myself, as well as taking part in a dialogue between the international, especially then the Nordic, and Czech theatre.
One of the first remarks I would like to make is connected to the production I did not see, the (A)pollonia directed by Kryzsztof Warlikowski, which Norwegian collegue of mine got the chance to see. This probaly was one highlight in the festival, as far as Warlikowski has worked with Krystian Lupa, whos production of Thomas Bernhards Holzfälle I saw at the Kontrapunkt 2015 festival. I really had wished I could have seen the Warlinowski.
The international productions I got to see in Plzen were Thomas Ostermeiers Ein Volksfeind (Nepritel lidu) by Henrik Ibsen, a production I already had seen in Berlin, but seeing it again at this occasion was great. It was of course one of the best productions deserving 5 dots, by it´s wonderful acting and the scenography in direction of installation art, as well as by opening up the audience.
The other international production I saw was the already mentioned production Brím from Vesturport theatre in Iceland. This was a very close to the audience production, and should have been performed in an even smaller stage than the Alfa theatre. At least the auditorium should not have been darkend. Seeing this in an auditorium with light taken off was not pleasant, because the actors were adressing themselve as in a revue theatre or cabaret, inbetween the more ”naturalistic” box performing which had a grotesque character. In the talk afterwards, the artistic director of the theatre, Gisli Örn Gardarsson, admitted the problem of a toobig auditorium, and the loss of the intimacy which the production was made for. Because of this problem, I cannot give the production as I saw it more the 3 dots, but I can imagine a better rating when the maximum of intention by space and situation is fulfilled. I wonder if Plzen does not have a small space theatre, smaller than Alfa. Anyhow, it should be possible to work on finding alternative spaces. For the next year festival, it should be taken hight for the possiblity of some company needing a very small, ambient or intimate space to perform in.
From Slovakia I saw The kindly ones (Les Bienveillantes, Laskave bohyne) at The Grand Theatre, from the Slovenské národni from Bratislava. This is a great epic production, almost with a filmic quality. Very textual, of course, but it could remind of the great epic narrative theatre one could see in the 1980´s, like with Peter Brook , but much less physical in it´s acting style. It was performed in a very deep stage, a box beyond the proscenium fram at The Grand Theatre. First I was confused by this use of space, and since I don´t know how it is performed and in what space in Bratislava, it is hard to say. But it was a bewildering produciton in the way of story telling, which covered up a thematic which still is of higt actuality. I would give it 4 dots.
So, what did I see of theatre from the Czech Republic? Well, let me first mention that I saw The Hedonists (Pozitkári) from the Divadlo Na zábradli in Prague, which I know is a theatre of great avantgarde significance for Czech theatre, but which also did not have the right space. So, there is a problem with the space at this festival, since even not The New Theatre did not seem to have a small stage, which could have paid this grotesque of existential character more justice. It has no doubt very good acting, and the play is interesting – althought reminding a bit of Jean-Paul Sartre´s Huis clos. It is textual or poetical avantgarde, and it is a pantomime seen at it´s best. It connects to the Commedia dell´Arte-tradition as it has been modernized in a more realistic grotesque style. I wish I had been close to it, so 3,5 dots is relevant.
The pantomime based on the Thomas Mann short story Der Tod in Venedig and the film that was produced, Death in Venice, shown at the festival in the Novy Teatr was a ballet-pantomie, a visit to a Europe on the verge of the catastrophy of the two world wars. It was well made but without any clear motivation for why it was made. I have to be very critical towards it and say a 2,5 dots.
Did I not see anything of new theatre in the Czech Republic which was to my taste and interest for new theatre of the post modern and visual kind? Did I not see anything that could stir my interest for a new and upcoming theatre in the Czech Republic? Yes, indeed I did, although it was not perfect technically. It consisted of many interesting small performative situations and avantgarde scenic stations and tableaux, it did show an updated relevance of theatre and games, new authenticity, the performativie of the small stages with closesness to the audience – much of what I missed otherwise in the festival. And I even saw it on the first evening after my flight from Bergen to Prague and coming in late in car from the Vaclav Havel Airport to Plzeen. It is Proti pokroku. Proti lásce. Proti demokracii, which had been translated to English as Against Progress. Agaisnt Love. Against Democracy.
It was witty, it was funny and it required some walking and discussions while walking, and it had a great potential to improve and be taken on in all respects. It was shown in the University, The Art Academy Department, so it was a staging of a house, it was going to the outside of the city – and it was a great atmosphere. I liked it very much and I also know it was from DAMU Prague´s theatre school, a company founded in 2005 under the name of Theatre Leti. In spite of the many rushes up and down going from space to space on diffrent floors, it gave me promises for the future, and i will give it 4,5 dots.
My conclusion then is that during a festival like this, the necessary spaces have to be found. But it might also be the problem of how to analyze what´s going on a little better dramaturgically on the curatorial level, so that performances happen to find their maximum spaces. Anyhow, Theatre Leti got what they needed.
/Psáno pro Divadelní noviny/
Knut Ove Arntzen,
Professor of Theatre Studies,
University of Bergen,
Dep. of Lingvistic, Literary and
Aesthetic Studies (LLE), Norway
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