The velvet revolution had just happened and Vaclav Havel, playwright and activist was the president of his country.
It was Alison Hampshire’s inspiration to put on a play by the Czech playwright Vaclav Havel. Havel had already visited the Brighton Festival a couple of times and Alison was already negotiating with the Festival for him to come to the play and take part in the after show debate.
Alison told me she was at a dinner party with Gavin Henderson, then the director of the Brighton Festival when Havel called up. Apologetically he explained that he wouldn’t be able to attend the Festival this year, because he had unexpectedly become president of the republic of Czechoslovakia!
|March 19th – 20th 1990||Pavilion Theatre, Brighton||270|
|May 22nd 1990||Pavilion Theatre, Brighton||200|
|13th Aug – 1st Sept||De Marco”s, Edinburgh Festival||600|
|Cast and Crew|
|Robin Manuell||Ian Shaw||Roderick Field|
|Beth FitzGerald||Sarah Downing||Alison Hampshire|
The Stage Sept 27th 1990
Vaclav Havel’s one-acter, Private View, about couple obsessed with one-upmanship materialism bid feel worthy in pre-Revolution Czechoslovakia, set become a stable part repertoire. That it is down beautifully skilled writing Havel, who makes life easy for actors by concentrating message he wants to get across into an economical number and form words that always act as epicentre of the actors’ movement.
Newly formed Re:action Theatre, from Brighton performed Private View quite adequately, minimised on props sensibly to give more space and emphasis to the stunningly effective script. They did a good job for their first Edinburgh. Beth FitzGerald, as Vera managed to lose herself well in the character.
They take Private View on tour throughout the country over the next year with Stone Walls, an adaptation by George Pope of Kafka’s short story In The Penal Settlement. A large clock dominates the set of Stone Walls and a scene using it to beat the time of work, rotating the hands to show the passage of time, was really quite spectacular.
I like Re:action because they think about their productions deeply, and with good, deft touches here and there, particularly in Stone Walls, show their ability to add something visually to a script. Where I fear they fall short at this early stage in their careers is when their dramas reach their respective climaxes.
For instance, in Private View, when Beth FitzGerald throws the roses down in frustration at Ferdinand’s rejection of the couples values, she should be ridiculously hysterical, crying at least, artificially maybe.
But, on this occasion, FitzGerald was done with once the roses hit the floor. Robin Manuell, as Michael was comforting her when there no longer seemed anything to comfort. And, in Stone Walls, the company creates a wonderful moment of drama when it sets up the situation where a lowly ranked soldier attacks his superior, but they freeze the scene before impact instead of following through.
Both these points could seem minor; but they happen at crucial moments in each of the one-acters and their treatment often separates the good from the bad companies.
Re:action Theatre are talented enough to follow through at these junctures. They should have the confidence in future of doing so.
Vaclav Havel’s sharp social satire is now of historic interest. The dissident non-person is now president and the system he mocked is overthrown.
Set in the flat of a vapid social climbing couple that have waxed fat by conforming, They invite over a disgraced playwright friend, now a brewery worker, to see their opulence. They criticize his life style, girlfriend, and dress, even his love live, in the interests of friendship. It could be any suburban social comedy except for the subtext. If Vanacek (obviously Havel) conforms he’ll have what they have.
Re:action Theatre deliver the sharp dialogue with faultless timing. Robin Manuell, Beth FitzGerald and Ian Shaw become the characters down to the ground. Margaret Jackman’s direction is inspired.
Gentle comedy is often a code for clever but not funny, however judging by the regular laughs the audience found it clever and funny
The most striking feature of this play by Vaclav Havel, former dissident and now president of Czechoslovakia, is the way in which humour is used as a casing for the explosive political points. A writer who now works in a brewery because he opposed the government, visits two friends in their newly refurbished flat, They boast about their life of material success, their contacts, their child, and they urge Ferdinand to give up his undesirable friends and emulate them. He, however, asks awkward questions.
On one level the play contrasts amoral materialists with a man of integrity, while on another it is symbolic: the flat represents the State, Ferdinand’s wife (criticized by the other two) stands for his principles and so on. The humour comes from elements of the absurd and from the conflict between two completely different views of life.
Robin Manuell and Beth FitzGerald catch the patronising smugness of Michael and Vera exactly and their horrible shiny clothes betray their fundamental unsoundness, Ian Shaw shows Ferdinand as straightforward, embarrassed and even naïve, As directed by Margaret Jackman, they all deliver the lines so as to make the most of them.