Panorama Small theatre company puts Czech politics on stage
An impromptu production by a small theatre company has become all the rage in Prague. The title of the piece is Blond Bitch and the script is not by a well-known playwright but by life itself or rather by a promising twenty-six-year old Czech politician whose career just went up in smoke in the worst government crisis in the country’s modern history. Blond Bitch is in fact a play based word-for-word on a secret recording made of former Public Affairs deputy leader Kristýna Kočí.
The recording – peppered with vulgarities –nearly brought down the government and regularly brings down the roof at Prague’s Rubin studio in the Lesser Quarter. Its director Tomáš Svoboda explains what made the group of young actors put real-life Czech politics on stage.
“I think that kind of thing is missing in this country. Elsewhere in the world stand up comedians tear politicians to pieces. But here we have nothing like a political cabaret. And I believe it is important to say these things and point a finger at a specific politician. If you generalize and do it in a kind, inoffensive way then the politicians in question laugh with you as if it didn’t concern them. So it is important to say this is Kristýna Kočí, or this is Vít Bárta – see what they are doing.”
Actress Barbora Poláková gives a convincing rendition of the young politician, reciting verbatim her speech to party members from the regions who are easily recognizable dressed in local costumes and armed with pitchforks. The young politician describes behind the scenes political machinations in unbelievably crude language, not even sparing the prime minister whom she claims is a wimp desperately clinging to power. In real life the recording shook the coalition government in its foundations – yet here Czechs are rolling with laughter, similarly as they did in 1989 on hearing a secretly recorded tape of the former communist leader Miloš Jakeš or several years later at a theatre performance based on corruption among Czech football bosses. Sociologist Ladislav Rabušic explains what lies behind this attitude.
“I think it has deep roots in Czech history. It is common knowledge that we are a small country, a small nation, and we have always been under the rule of some powers, even superpowers. One of the means of getting rid of the frustration that logically accompanies such a position is to mock authority, to laugh at the people who are in charge. I think that the Czechs have developed a special way of dealing with their frustration –they laugh at everything and especially they like to laugh at the authorities. If we look at the classic Czech novel The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek it is a wonderful example of this.”
Two of the real-life actors in this drama –or farce as it appears on stage – actually joined the ranks of the audience one night. The new leader of Public Affairs Karolína Peake and Kateřina Klasnová, party deputy chair and wife of the man at the centre of the scandal, former transport minister Vít Bárta sat in the audience and laughed as uproariously as anyone else. The play’s director Tomáš Svoboda says politicians are a fascinating study any day – simply because they are like a different breed.
“They lie all the time. I think it would make a normal person totally schizophrenic thinking about what you can say and what you can’t. Their media advisor tells them what to say, what not to say, where part of the truth is acceptable and what they must never say under any circumstances. I think it gradually turns them into someone else. Like actors who take off their costume and for a few more hours they still think they are Richard III. It dims their sense of reality. They feel that “hey I can click my fingers and the planet will turn the other way ‘cause now I’m party leader”. It sounds funny, but it’s really quite terrible.”
Although mockery and derisive laughter was often the only weapon Czechs had against their leaders one might expect that 20 years after the fall of communism they would come to believe more strongly in their power to change their lot. So why has nothing changed in this respect? Sociologist Ladislav Rabušic again:
“I think that in the last elections people felt very powerful because they were able to apply a new way of ridding themselves of politicians they did not trust (by circling in preferential votes for someone). And they managed to do so. But unfortunately, after a couple of months, politicians went back to their old ways following their vested interests, there was corruption…and once again the public was frustrated with politics and found a means of release in mockery.”
As you say it is a way of letting off steam – but what are the consequences of just laughing it off?
“Well, the consequences in this case could be serious. Because if it should happen that the government were to fall then people might be so disappointed with politics that they may refuse to go to new elections and that might have devastating consequences by allowing a populist who is able to mobilize the electorate to win power. This I regard as a huge problem.”
Have Czechs become a nation of cynics over the years?
“You know, I don’t like to generalize about national character but, if pressed, I would say that yes, due to Czech history being what it was, cynicism is a part of the Czech approach to the world.”
Although plays based on political scandals have a short life – the actors say they will keep it on stage while people want to see it. Tomáš Svoboda says people’s appreciation is a powerful motivation.
“You know we are really pleased with the rapport. After the first night we sat around and argued about whether to give a repeat performance –whether it should not just be a one-off thing. Then we decided to go for one more night and put a one-line statement about it on the web. The next morning the producer woke me up and said it had been sold out within 30 minutes. And the next night was the same. So we are sticking with it while the interest lasts.”
And that may be for quite a while – or at least until the next scandal comes along.