Vaclav Havel's new play deals with power - and leaving it
23.5.2008 - Rob Cameron
It was a standing ovation for the new play by former Czech President Vaclav
Havel in Prague last week. His first play in more then 20 years is about
the leader of a country who leaves politics after many years in power and
has to adjust to a new life. And if you think that sounds a little like
Havel himself - you would be right.
Václav Havel, photo: CTK
"Leaving" is one of the most keenly awaited plays to hit the
Czech stage in recent years. Václav Havel actually began writing the play
back in 1989, but set it aside to concentrate on more pressing matters -
leading a revolution to bring down Czechoslovakia's communist regime. Now,
five years after stepping down after two terms as Czech president, Mr Havel
is back. At a packed press conference a few days before the premiere, the
71-year-old dramatist explained the inspiration behind the play:
"I was interested - and indeed am still interested - in the more
general, existential side of things. I was interested in how come when
someone loses power, that person also loses the meaning of life? How come
power has such charisma for some people that its loss means the collapse of
that person's world?"
David Radok, Václav Havel, Ondřej Hrab, photo: CTK
Leaving" tells the story of Vilém Rieger, the former chancellor of
an unnamed country fighting eviction from his lavish government villa at
the hands of his shady deputy, Vlastík Klein. The villa is located in a
large orchard of cherry trees, and the play is scattered with references
both to Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and to Shakespeare's King Lear, two
plays that both deal with the theme of a loss of power. Ondřej Hrab is the
director of the Archa Theatre:
"I think it's a very contemporary play. It's very well written. It's
one of the best plays he has ever written. I think it's a really, really
great play, which has very important connotations to our lives right now.
What I like about the play is also how it is written, the way how he works
with text and how he also intervenes with his own comments."
An e170xample of Václav Havel's intervention is "The Voice",
imploring the characters not to overact. It's an amusing device, but it's
not just Havel's dialogue or David Radok's skillful direction that
sparkles; the use of scenery and props is also highly impressive. At one
point the protagonist Rieger - played by Jan Tříska - writhes on the
ground, his clothes soaking wet from a highly realistic downpour, in a very
clear nod to King Lear. At moments like that it's hard to decide whether
"Leaving" is a comedy or a tragedy. Jitka Sloupová is Mr Havel's
"I think it's both, and it depends in a way on the people who stage
it, which look they take into the play. David is a very good director, not
only good but I think he is a very deep artist - his vision is rather
bleak, rather dark, and I think he's not far from what the core of the play
is. It's quite a dark play, but at the same time very, very funny."
Václav Havel has revealed he is already working on an idea for his next
play. It seems that "Leaving" is a very welcome return indeed.