There are few comedians in the Czech Republic of such high calibre as Petr Ctvrtnicek (known for his antics in a now legendary satiric show Czech Soda) and Jiri Labus of the Ypsilon Theatre. A few years ago the two teamed up to perform in Ctvrnicek's play Ivanek, Buddy, can You Talk? which the duo recently took on a tour of Czech prisons. Now, they've scheduled two special performances at a Prague courthouse, with the proceeds going to the Confederation of Political Prisoners. The aim is to raise at least 100,000 crowns for those who suffered under the Communist regime.
Comedians Petr Ctvrtnicek and Jiri Labus are instantly recognisable names in the Czech Republic, both on stage and in Czech film. Neither shies from the slightest buffoonery, especially Ctvrtnicek, who often does so in a slightly deadpan or somewhat muted style balancing on the absurd and the serious. In Ivanek, Buddy Can You Talk?, the comic scored a theatre hit; the play is based on police wiretapping transcripts of former Viktoria Zizkov football boss Ivan Hornik - now appealing a sentence for match fixing. Hornik - caught on tape - spoke more in expletives than anything else, something which the comedians lampoon in their show. Petr Ctvrtnicek:
"I read the police transcripts in the Czech daily 'Sport' and my first reaction was 'This has to hit the stage straight away!' because it was brilliant. The dialogues were perfect as they were: they didn't need to be rewritten! No absurd playwright would fashion them better. But I wasn't sure who to bring in on the project. A friend suggested Jirka Labus, who I knew as a magician from a popular TV series, but I was kind of shy to call him because of the raunchiness of the dialogues. But we called him, I think at about one-thirty in the morning, and the next day we had our first reading."
The project took off on Czech stages, prompting the duo to take it to the next level: this October, Ctvrtnicek and Labus took "Ivanek" to the so-called "big house", in other words, prison. A tour of seven Czech jails which was an experience neither comedian is likely to soon forget. Once again Petr Ctvrtnicek:
"Of course, it's an unusual feeling: in the afternoon after the play ended, our audience couldn't leave, like us, with musicians playing music and drinking on a bus headed for Prague. It's unusual. Of course, the audience reacted very positively and spontaneously. We got used to visiting the prisons after a while, but it was still a shock whenever we had a pause of a few days. It was unforgettable."
Parts of the experience were even filmed for an accompanying "road movie". Following their success in the prisons, the final step, says Ctvrtnicek is a pair of performances for the public this weekend to raise money for the Confederation of Political Prisoners, representing those who were persecuted by the Communists. These will take place at a Prague courthouse - of all places - in honour of those, the comedian says, who too often are forgotten today. Something which Ctvrnicek means dead seriously, funny man though he is.
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