Arts news, Havel returns to National Theatre stage after fourteen years

14-05-2004

In this week's Arts - former dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel makes a comeback to Prague's most prestigious stage with his 1985 play "Temptation" but before that we look at some of the cultural events this week:

Prague Spring International Music Festival 2004 opens in Prague

The Prague Spring International Music Festival 2004 is officially underway in its 59th year. It was opened on Wednesday with Bedrich Smetana's My Country, performed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jiri Kout. Highlights of the festival include celebrations of the centenary of the great Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and performances from his great grandson Josef Suk and Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena. For the first time this year, the festival introduces a smaller series of late-night concerts called "concerts without a break and without a jacket" to take place in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Rokitansky exhibition at Prague's Faust House

Also on Wednesday, an exhibition devoted to the life and works of Karel Rokitansky - a Czech nineteenth century scientist, pathologist, philosopher and politician, opened at Prague's Faust House on Karlovo Namesti 40 (Charles Square). The exhibition marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karel Rokitanski and was organised by the Charles University faculties of medicine in Prague and Hradec Kralove (Rokitansky's birthplace).

First Prague International Poetry Festival

On Sunday May 16, poetry fans can enjoy works from over forty poets from around the world at the first Prague International Poetry Festival, which runs until Saturday May 22. The festival's main goal is to serve a long-standing need within the Prague literary community as well as foster cultural exchange between writers, editors, publishers, and institutions. It focuses on local and regional poets but also features international writers from as far as Asia, Australia and the United States. For more information, visit the festival's official website at www.geocities.com/praguepoetryfestival

Havel play returns to National Theatre after fourteen years

Temptation, photo: CTKTemptation, photo: CTK On Thursday, Prague's 18th century Estates Theatre, which is part of the National Theatre, was proud to host the premiere of a modern adaptation of "Temptation" - a play written by former dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel shortly after he was released from prison in 1985. Temptation, also called the 'small Czech Faust', targets at the Communist regime with lots of irony, wit, but also intellectual humour. Its modern version is directed by 67-year old US director Charles Marowitz. I met up with Mr Marowitz at the dress rehearsals and started off by asking him whether the script and stage design was changed to adapt to today's audience:

"Yes, a lot has been changed it has been updated and put into a completely different physical context, a different visual context, quite a large number of cuts and compressions were made in the script, obviously nothing was added, I mean we didn't in any way try to re-write Havel but because we put the slant on transforming the black magic and the necromancy into something more pertinent to the present time - which is to say corporations, the conglomerates, the contemporary world - we did have to put different emphasis in different places. That was done all through rehearsals very assiduously by me in conjunction with the actors and with Jan Hancil, who's responsible for the dramaturgy."

Did the audience react the way you were hoping it would?

Charles Marowitz, photo: CTKCharles Marowitz, photo: CTK "Well, because we put a big emphasis on the comedy we are always hoping that it will be found amusing by a large number of people in the audience. There were a certain amount of laughs and a certain amount of amusement from the audience which is very heartening but I think that people come to a Havel play with the preconception that it will be philosophic and dialectical and very, very serious. So we have to overcome that in the first scenes because I tried very much to put an emphasis on comedy. It is a matter of overcoming a sort of preoccupation that the audience has, an anticipation that things are going to be heavy, dark and morose, which I really don't think they are."

And what made you decide to direct this play?

"Well, I was asked by the director of the theatre to do a project. I suggested various Shakespeares which are of interest to me ...he proposed this play - I said I didn't know it but I would go out and read it. I read it and as soon as I read it I said to myself this is one of the more interesting Havel plays and it is one that I can see being adapted in a contemporary and innovative way. So it is because I found it a malleable text and because I felt it was possible to be "rehabilitated" if you like, that I thought this would be an interesting challenge and that's how it came about."

Temptation, photo: CTKTemptation, photo: CTK Could you just explain to us how one directs a play that is performed in a completely different language?

"Well, the perception seems to be that a director works with language but in fact the director is always working with subtext - with what's going on underneath the language so it is not really all that far removed from what would be happening in a Czech production of this play with a Czech director. Of course, I don't speak the language, I don't know the language but one gets to know the flavour of the language as a result of the three month rehearsal period so that by the end one can actually make out the "tunes" of what the actors are playing and it becomes totally comprehensible. I have done a lot of productions in foreign countries, in Germany and Italy, in France and Scandinavia, so I am used to saying something in one language, having it interpreted, going on to the next thought, having that interpreted...it's a rhythm that you eventually pick up."

Now, Vaclav Havel is coming to the play. How do you think he will like it?

"Now that is a very interesting question and it is something that has concerned me for a long time because I put a different spin on his play, we have gone into a slightly different direction, given it a different visual context... I think it has been given a different stylistic feel as well -I honestly don't know. If he is very anal retentive about his work he'll probably hate it. If he's open minded as one expects from a celebrated dissenter then maybe he'll accept the fact that a director is also capable of dissent. And my dissent has to do with moving away from some of the original predicates of the play and going into a slightly different and more contemporary direction. So the short answer is I've no idea but I am very concerned about how he is going to take it."

14-05-2004

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