La Putyka – The Czech pub meets New Circus

17-09-2010

Just a few days ago the Czech Republic’s Cirk Putyka performed for the 65th time its acclaimed La Putyka, a show which combines the setting of a Czech pub with dance, music, acrobatics and puppetry. In short, elements typical of New Circus. Authored by performer Rosťa Novák, La Putyka (which is slang for pub or run-down dive), was featured in a slimmed-down version this year at the Czech Expo in Shanghai, and this weekend will premiere for the first time in English in the Czech capital.

Rosťa Novák, photo: laputyka.czRosťa Novák, photo: laputyka.cz Ahead of the performance I discussed La Putyka with creator Rosťa Novák, asking first about his influences:

“I come from a family of puppeteers going back eight generations. So that’s one thing: my father was also an actor at the Ypsilon studio. And our extended family still runs a traditional circus. So I was exposed to all kinds of influences from an early age. Later, when I studied at DAMU, our professor Josef Krofta exposed us to different styles and genres and New Circus. I fell in love with how ensembles worked with movement and was fascinated with how New Circus used theatrical elements and story. Productions had an overarching idea and theme.” Photo: laputyka.czPhoto: laputyka.cz

The central themes in La Putyka are alcohol and the dreams of characters visiting a traditional Czech pub: a little run-down joint where regulars stare into their beer, pub floozies flirt with young upstarts and so on. Not surprisingly, the central character who holds it all together is the “hospodskej” (or barkeeper) who imagines and presents much of what the audience sees. Rosťa Novák again: “A lot of it is in the barkeeper’s head and the opening is slow. Czech pubs are often full of people talking but there can also be lonely souls sitting quietly over their beer, thinking about their lives, in their own heads. People think about what they’ve done well, what they’ve done wrong, and fantasy plays an important part. For the barkeeper as well.”

Photo: laputyka.czPhoto: laputyka.cz The show opens with a “last call for alcohol”, but of course, soon enough, things take off. Soon, the stage explodes with activity, going from a slow build-up to an eventual cascade of acrobatics, dance numbers and trampoline jumps. Two central comic figures are fattish bearded old pensioners (who would easily fit in a Beckett play) nodding in alcoholic slumbers before they come to life. Their beer guts hanging out, they soon put on dazzling and highly comic feats of strength: bumping into each other, falling over backwards and hoisting each other at impossible angles into the air as they are watched or joined by the pub’s other denizens. Rosťa Novák again:

Photo: laputyka.czPhoto: laputyka.cz “The two are Petr Horňícek and Jirka Weissman. One is a fashion designer and the other is a dancer turned actor, and one of the original members of the troupe. These guys put in an amazing amount of work to learn everything that they do. It isn’t at all easy, when you consider they are stuffed into foam suits. It’s very hot and even if you use tape and take every precaution, it’s impossible not to sweat, making some of the moves more dangerous as you can slip. Like everyone in La Putyka, they really work hard and what is cool about this production is that we never set out to make a hit – we just wanted to introduce a larger New Circus production onto the Czech scene.”

Photo: laputyka.czPhoto: laputyka.cz During one performance at the recent Letní letná festival, which takes place every summer at Letna plain, the duo even put on a mock striptease and break-dance to Snaps! I’ve Got the Power, after the show had ended. Pulling off their foam bellies to the waist, they revealed “ripped” upper bodies causing women in the crowd to whistle. Rosťa Novák says it was the first time they added such an encore but says it’s nothing out of the ordinary: when it comes to La Putyka each performance is a “little different”.

By contrast one of the things that are constant, tying it all together as is typical for New Circus, is the music, performed live by the trio tros discotecos:

“They are really talented guys and the advantage is that they are all also professional actors. As a band they are really tight and they keep the tempo during the show. The music is 90 percent original and it’s live – something which belongs in any real circus. Live music lifts the audience out of their seats!”

Photo: laputyka.czPhoto: laputyka.cz La Putyka is highly-recommended if you can manage to get tickets, as these routinely sell-out long in advance. You can see the show either at the La Fabrik theatre in Prague 7 or on different tour dates in various Czech and Moravian towns. The English-language version will tour outside of the country. It is has thrilled both critics and regular audiences with its variety, depicting pub life as a cigarette-and alcohol-induced fantasy but there is a sharper message, too, pertaining to the dangers of booze. It’s a very personal one at that: one of the central songs uses verses written by Rosťa Novák’s father at a time he was being treated for alcoholism. Rosťa Novák again:

“It was written by my dad and it is authentic about his demon, alcohol. Even viewers who don’t know the story who enjoy the song, understand there is a darker message. There’s the line ‘When the fifth summer of boozing had ended, I’d given up the ghost and evaporated…’ Everything moves so quickly today and sometimes five years to reach this point is all it takes.”

You can find more information about La Putyka at laputyka.cz.

17-09-2010