By Vaclav Havel, translated by Carol Rocamora and Tomas Rychetsky
Directed by Geoffrey Beevers
Venue: Orange Tree Theatre
Date: Thursday 20th November 2008
The set was an office in a brewery. There was a table in the middle of the stage, surrounded by crates and metal barrels, and there were two chairs. The place looked rough – there was an old style radio (old even in the 70s) next to a barrel on our side of the table, and a small ball of twine sat on the barrel itself. To the far left, the door had the usual nude pictures, and a sign above the door said something like if you’re full of beer, you’re full of cheer.
The first of two plays, Audience concerned a meeting between Vanek and the foreman of the brewery he’s working in. When the lights go up, the foreman is snoozing, face down on his desk. When Vanek knocks, he wakes up and invites Vanek to come in and sit down, which he does, eventually. The foreman also offers him a glass of beer. Vanek is a reluctant drinker – we learn he prefers wine – but he does manage to drink a little. He also manages to get rid of a fair bit into the foreman’s glass when he’s away relieving himself. The foreman puts away more than enough for the both of them, though, as he keeps reaching into the crate beside him for another bottle. This became quite funny, and before long he had to disappear through the little door. Sounds of water in various forms, and then he’s back again, adjusting his flies and pulling down his apron. This became the major structural motif for this play.
Verbally, there was a cycle of repetition of what Vanek liked to drink, stories about the brewery, and warnings about Vanek’s relationship with another writer. Gradually, as the foreman became increasingly drunk, the pressure he was under to report on Vanek and his activities was revealed.
After too many beers, the foreman falls asleep, and Vanek puts him back in his chair, the way he was at the start, and leaves. We then get a reprise of the opening, with Vanek knocking on the door, the foreman waking up, etc. This time, Vanek seems more confident, and readily drinks the first glass of beer he’s offered – perhaps he’s learning? – and that’s where the play ends.
This was lovely little piece which showed us the effects of living under a repressive regime. The wariness about saying too much too openly, the recourse to alcohol to deaden the senses, the need for others to conform so as not to cause problems for those around them, all these came across very clearly as we went through another little repetitive dance. Along with the humour, and seeing just how human these people are to remind us that this can happen anywhere, this made for a very enjoyable opening play.
There was the usual post-show chat, but I find I’ve forgotten most of what was said. There was some confirmation of the way Havel and many other writers chose to use surrealism to mask anti-government writing – if they couldn’t understand it, they couldn’t ban it. I suspect that’s what makes some European drama inaccessible to me – you had to have been there. The amount of beer being drunk in the first play (Audience) was commented on; apparently the timing of each bottle and glass was tricky, but turned out to be crucial to the scene. I do remember there were some long anecdotes by people who had been to Czechoslovakia which seemed to have very little to add to the experience of the discussion, at least not as much as the actual Czech folk who contributed to the earlier talks, so perhaps that’s why I don’t have a lot more to say here.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me