In this week’s Arts, meet SKUTR – the acclaimed directing duo Martin Kukučka and Lukáš Trpišovský. They directed one of the hits of the summer cultural calendar, Romeo and Juliet, at Prague Castle.
I began by asking about the challenges the duo had faced – Martin Kukučka was the first to answer:
Martin Kukučka: “It is a nice combination: it is not classic theatre in the sense that it is open air. As directors, we had to deal with the weather, unexpected sounds of traffic – planes or motorcycles – fireworks and so on and we also had to prepare our actors for those kinds of disturbances. I would say our previous experience and projects which were site-specific or alternative. This helped us work on the stage at the Castle.”
You said in an interview that you are usually contacted when they want something different; is that true in this case as well? I heard there were some modifications…
Lukáš Trpišovský: “We altered the work a little in taking some of the text out… about 60 percent!” (laughs)
You worked on that with the highly-respected translator Martin Hilský…
LT: “Yeah. It was great to meet him and not just use his translations. He knows everything there is to know about Shakespeare.”
MK: “How he thinks about Shakespeare, his thoughts, how he brings out a lot of little details, is all fascinating. The most important thing which he stressed was that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy but the first two acts start out as a comedy. This was a great impulse for us when deciding how to direct the piece.
“The other thing which he is always talking about is that Shakespeare’s text are not just lines which to recite, to speak, but they are very physical. You need to move, you need to act, the words need to be reflected in the body. And this really helped us as well. We have experience with physical performance, New Circus, so this was very useful and this is the other thing which came out of our talks with Martin Hilský.”
When you were interviewed by Jan Pokorný ahead of the premiere, which was very entertaining, it appeared neither of you had slept very much beforehand. Was preparation of this year’s production very difficult?
LT: “It was. We had to begin rehearsals late every night after tourists had left Prague Castle – we basically worked nights from midnight to 3 or 4 AM. The weather was not very nice, only around 6 degrees and it was sometimes rainy.”
MK: “It was more tiring than we expected. A couple years ago we directed a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream also at Prague Castle and there the weather was nice in June. This time things began well but then the weather worsened and was itself tragic like Romeo and Juliet!”
“[The thing that everyone forgets or doesn’t realise] is that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy but the first two acts start out as a comedy. This was a great impulse for us when deciding how to direct the piece. The first half really is a crazy comedy in the Italian style! The second half, after the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, everything changes.”
We will talk about the actual premiere in just a little bit, but when you were casting this play – I found this interesting in your approach as directors – you cast actors from many different theatres, even with different acting styles or approaches. Tereza Voříšková (who plays Juliet) admitted, for example, that she is more of a screen actress and in the beginning she had her doubts. So how did it all come together?
MK: “One of the great things about the Shakespeare Summer Festival is that it take place when most theatres are closed for the holidays. So contrary to the rest of the year, many actors have time to commit which they otherwise might not. So we were able to approach people we really wanted like Šaša Rašilov from the National Theatre or actors from the alternative scene. That allowed us to approach many different actors we wanted to work with. Lenka Krobotová from Dejvické Divadlo, Jiří Vyorálek from the Theatre on the Balustrade.”
It’s almost a luxury…
MK: “It’s a luxury. We were also able to focus on different styles and try and get to the essence of Shakespeare’s original characters. Each character has something inside to get to and so the actors we chose were really tailored for some parts. Some of the more physical roles demanded certain types of actors with experience in dance or that kind of physical movement. We also needed different characters, and ways of acting, to highlight the initial comedy style. We were able to create our characters more precisely.”
MK: “I have to say something before. When we were thinking about who should be Romeo and Juliet, it was quickly apparent that using a 14-year-old actress, the age of the character, was not possible. No actress really of that age could capture that depth; she also wouldn’t be able to step back and also make fun of herself. The Juliet that we chose can. So when she meets Romeo or the balcony scene it has to be funny. At that age you take it seriously but when you look back it is also ‘funny’ when you remember what your teenage years were like. It is romantic and beautiful but still funny. So that was what was needed.
“On the other hand, in the second half they really ‘grow up’. Romeo and Juliet become adults within a week. So the actors had to be people who already have experience in life. So in the beginning, Tereza ‘really is 14’, fighting with her parents, changing moods all the time. Her body is still awkward and so on. But in the end she is really a fighter: she fights for her love, how she thinks things should be. So we have like Tereza - teenage fighter. Yeah! I think we can say that – teenage fighter! But a very romantic one of course!”
The reaction was excellent the first night…
MK: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it is worth noting that Romeo and Juliet is one of those plays where everyone in the audience has their own opinion or impression of what the play should be like. Everyone has their feeling about how things should be. So in our play, some might have thought: it’s funny, why is it funny, this is a TRAGEDY! Because the first acts are funny.” (laughs)
Is there a moment when you go “Ah!” because you know that you have the audience on board?
“In the end Juliet is really a fighter: she fights for her love, how she thinks things should be. So we have like Tereza - teenage fighter. Yeah! I think we can say that!”
MK: “Yeah there is. Or not!! Sometimes when there is a tougher audience the actors panic a little ‘Oh, it’s not good, they are not laughing!’ but there are three or four moments where, if members of the audience laugh, then we know they are on board. If they don’t, then we know that the audience will be a little more difficult that evening and it will be a little tougher. My take is to tell the actors that some nights there will be people of the audience who will laugh out loud while other nights they will just have these little smiles. The message to the actors is ‘Don’t worry or struggle with it: let the story come across and, on the contrary, try and enjoy it even more.’”