Sam Walters is one of Britain’s most acclaimed theatrical directors and during his four decades as artistic director of The Orange Tree Theatre in south-west London, the theatre has enjoyed an unrivalled reputation. In today’s Czech Books, he talks to David Vaughan about his very special relationship to the work of Václav Havel.
For years I have been going swimming in the pool at Hotel AXA, a to my mind rather bland functionalist building from 1932 that is currently undergoing major renovation. It is located more or less opposite the department store Bílá Labuť, which is of similar vintage and style, on Prague’s busy Na Poříčí street.
Poet, novelist and translator Justin Quinn has called Prague home since 1992. A professor of English at Charles University and the University of West Bohemia in Plzeň, the Irishman has lived in contrasting parts of the Czech capital, from Malá Strana (which we’ll visit later) to the concrete jungle of Jižní Město. But our tour of Justin Quinn’s Prague begins at another old ‘hood of his, Nusle – specifically at the foot of the Nuselské schody, or Nusle Steps. Why there?
Entering the small, cozy space of FotoGrafic Gallery in Prague’s Old Town, I was struck by the glossy picture-perfect photographs of dashing ladies tanning themselves next to spacious cars, a family on an idyllic picnic, youngsters showing off in front of shiny motorbikes – all images of prosperity and consumerism. One would hardly believe that these were images of 1960’s Czechoslovakia and not America, but all of these are works are indeed by the once legendary Czech photographer and mountaineer Vilém Heckel, who brought a first-republic gleam
Míla Fürstová is currently enjoying a level of exposure that most artists can only dream of. The Czech’s exquisite etching of angel’s wings against the background of a starry sea appears on the cover of Ghost Stories, the hit new LP by one of the planet’s biggest rock bands, Coldplay. Indeed, her intricate illustrations are at present central to the group’s visuals, also appearing on single sleeves and merchandising.