Slovak National Theatre — Drama, Bratislava, SLOVAKIA
Jiří Havelka & coll.
No Show Tonight
Directed by Jiří Havelka & coll.
Jiří Havelka and a intergenerational team of actors (from Emília Vášáryová to Dominika Kavaschová) return to the role of artists during the events of the Velvet Revolution in November 1989. Recollections and views of direct participants intertwine with excerpts from historical documents and dramatized monologues, while the action is sometimes interposed by the spectators’ loud exasperation. This intelligent, intense and often witty kaleidoscope of images builds no monument to the Revolution but interrogates it in polemical dialogue, portraying the birth of civil society in Slovakia and reflecting on the vulnerability and occasional naiveté of those who were instrumental in its activaton.
On one November day of 1989, a chaotic and awkward substitute rehearsal takes place at the Drama of the Slovak National Theatre shortly before a repeat performance of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People. The director delivers his final instructions as the make-up girl powders the actors’ faces. Some are in exemplary focus and getting into character, others do not really mind the situation. Suddenly news arrive from Prague. After one of the protests dispersed by police, a number of theatres have decided to stop their shows and their representatives instead debate with audiences. And so the actors from the Slovak first stage too begin considering what they should do… This is how a theatrical reconstruction of the revolutionary events might begin – but actually, No Shows Tonight, a production made for the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, is more of a documentary-fantastical cabaret. Acclaimed Czech director Jiří Havelka mustered an intergenerational group of actors with a method of collective production, reminiscent of his production Elites (2017; programmed during ITF Divadelná Nitra 2017). Like in Elites, here to the past is made into a bridge to reflections on the current state of society. The creators layered their reflections on the role of theatre professionals during the overthrow on multiple levels of meaning.
In his creative process the director drew on the recollections of direct participants in revolutionary events, by that time already well-known acting legends of our scena prima, such as Emília Vášáryová and Emil Horváth, then members of the youngest generations, including as Richard Stanke and Ingrid Timková, and the production also gives voice to the upcoming generation of actors (Dominika Kavaschová as well as Academy of Performing Arts (VŠMU) and Conservatory students). Events recorded by historians are thereby enriched with the histories of individuals, their authentic reminiscences literally entwine with familiar platform speeches. The texts are simultaneously interwoven with lines of dramatic characters who have been portrayed by the protagonists that evoke revolutionary passion. Interposed between we hear the private views and opinions of those whom the previous regime has ‘robbed of their face’, as well as observations by the youngest generation, who have not experienced it first-hand. They weigh up socialism, our expectations of democracy, and a critical eye is put to the current state of the Slovak judiciary.
A broad collaboration between all creators, from director Havelka through dramaturge Miriam Kičiňová and scenographer Lucia Škandlíková to the company of actors, gave birth to a spectacular, intelligent, intense, original and often witty kaleidoscope of scenes. In them the creators polemicise – sometimes more, sometimes less theatrically – about ways in which the values actors represent on stage imprint themselves in their civil attitudes, about what is theatre, what reality, and whether there is any solid boundary between the two. They advert to the vulnerability and sometimes idealism and naiveté of artists who have in good faith aided and still aid the activation of civil society in Slovakia, though frequently to mixed results. What ethos is there to be deepened in a country whose citizens have not had time to believe in true democracy, and what sort of function does art have in when we collectively play ‘just state’? The nature of the production spectators will see will depend on their age, experience and tendency to a certain view or ideology – all of these factors will affect whether they will be seized by nostalgia (which the creators successfully avoid), a critical view of the intermingling of politics and art, or by current contexts and present parallels.
While society faces the impacts and consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, we once again see how weak a priority culture has been in the public sphere. Besides the fact that No Show Tonight confirms our first scene is open to current trends, risks and creative experiment, it is also a useful production about the value of art, artists, and the ethos involved in its making.
directed by: Jiří Havelka and collective
dramaturgy: Miriam Kičiňová
assistant of dramaturgy: Petr Erbes
set design: Lucia Škandíková
costume design: Tereza Kopecká
cast: Emília Vášáryová, Emil Horváth, František Kovár, Richard Stanke, Ingrid Timková, Ondrej Kovaľ, Dominika Kavaschová, Svetozár Hanes, Zdeněk Mynář, Dana Droppová, Annamária Janeková, Alexandra Lukáčová, Sandra Lasoková, Sára Polyaková, Timea Rošková and external choir of the Slovak National Theatre – Opera
presentation at Divadelná Nitra supported by Slovak Arts Council, SPP Foundation, LITA – authors society
Jiří Havelka (1980)
graduated in alternative and puppet theatre directing from DAMU in Prague. Over his career he has collaborated with numerous Czech theatres, such as Dejvice Theatre (Black Hole, 2007, Production of the Year in Theatre News magazine survey; Wanted Welzl, 2011, The Murder of Gonzago, 2017), HaDivadlo (Indian in Danger, 2008; The World in Danger, 2012), Na Zábradlí Theatre (Ubu is Having Fun, 2010; Madness, 2014), National Theatre Prague (Mouse Paradise Experiment, 2016). Together with Vosto5 company, he approaches national themes in a uniquely original manner involving the principles of persiflage and mystification, such as in his production Pérák – about the Nazi Protectorate period (2011); Clash of the Little Titans – about the Munich betrayal (2013), Brass Band – about the expulsion of Germans (2013, Theatre News Award), or in his homeowners’ meeting production titled Owners, which earned the Theatre News Award and which Havelka also adapted in film (Czech Lion Award 2020 for best original script). He has also seen collaborations with the dance theatre VerTeDance (their production Correction earned the Czech Dance Platform Prize, the Theatre News Award and the Herald Angels Award at Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in 2013). In 2008 he received the Alfréd Radok Award for Talent of the Year. In 2011–2019 he led the Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre (KALD) at Prague’s DAMU.
“To create a production in memory of thirty years since a momentous event such as November 1989, besides in a theatre that played a crucial role in its course, and even with several actors who took active part in these events, is an extremely thankless undertaking that ‘reeks’ of pathetic memorial. In that respect, we might say without debate that Havelka has managed to craft a work that is neither an obligatory go-through-the-motions, nor empty gesture, but a living stage production.”
(Miroslav Zwiefelhofer, monitoringdivadiel.sk, 26 Oct 2019)
“The selection of documents and final shape of the production script are due to a whole creative team, and this novelty was brought to the Drama of the Slovak National Theatre by the director (already in his first production Elites). … We understand why Jiří Havelka would choose to end off the project with Dr. Stockmann’s grand monologue to the compact majority standing on a swamp of lies elegantly delivered by Emil Horváth.”
(Soňa Šimková, kød – konkrétne o divadle, i. 10/2019)