Prague Fringe Reviews 2011 - Day 2
The Fringe was competing with the Champions League Final on Saturday. Its hardly a fair fight but I stopped being a regular Green-Screen-Scener a while back. And, anyway, its often the case that those interested in theatre are mutually exclusive to those who want to watch the game. But there's a common snobbery among 'theatre folk' (whatever the hell they are) for the 'masses' who enjoy sport. 'What's the point?' they say (but they're really not asking). Well, that is the point. Apart from the blissful absence of an author and hence the genuinely unpredictable and exciting nature of sport, the point is that it really is no point. It really doesn't matter. And that's exactly why you can invest so much into caring about the result of a match. Conversely, all too often theatre takes itself far too seriously and feels it has to carry a message, that we have to learn by the end of the show or, in that most vomit-inducing of phrases, go on 'a journey of self discovery'. Part of the joy of theatre in the Czech Republic, other than its extremely high standard and abundance, is the utter lack of pretension that all too often hangs around the neck British and American theatre. As the Anglo-Czech playwrite Tom Stoppard said 'The purpose of theatre should be to entertain. That, I think, is enough.' Its just how to 'entertain' that is exactly the problem set to be solved by the theatre.
That's a problem Prague local Ken Nash (As Long As You Are Here, Malostranske Beseda, 2030-2130) deals with easily and, apart from that squirrel doing that weird thing with its tail I saw in Letna park, it was easily the best thing I saw on Saturday. In fact, its only Day 2 but its without a doubt the its the best show I've seen at the Fringe so far and its a real shame that Ken will have performed his last show Sunday night. A mix of music and video projections Ken, on guitar and vocals, provides a beautiful set of unforced and nicely ornamented folk songs sensitively accompanied by percussion and keyboard, all of which carry you melodiously along to some quite magnificent crescendos that take you far, far away from Mala Strana.
The music in itself could justify a concert but Ken is funny too. Very funny. Stand out tracks include Sensitive Songwriter where Ken pleads for a “sensitive song” but not one that'll take too long as he's “got shit to do”, the quite moving Laundry Day (“If I had a quarter for every time you said 'We're done' / I'd have 50cents”) and I [heart] Zombie, a tragic tale of unrequited love for, that's right, a zombie. The whole evening is perfectly paced and very neatly accompanied by simple but very well put together black and white videos that occasionally flash up the odd important message, such as 'Segue way to next song', 'Buy Merchandise' and 'I do magic' (at one point, Ken actually managed to successfully predict the future of everyone in the room). If I wasn't broker than Greece I would have snapped up his album Magic Squirrels (hang on, that's weird, perhaps he really does do magic) without a second thought. Ken finishes his run at the Fringe Sunday night but if you're staying in Prague just make sure you look out for his next gig. http://www.nashken.com/ . Otherwise we'll come looking for you.
Horror has got to be one of the hardest things to pull off in theatre and Alchemista, (Divadlo Kampa, 2200-2300) throws itself into the world of the occult with neat lighting, a simple but effective set and an utterly haunting musical score (from two members of local Prague band Tristram Trio - http://www.youtube.com/user/TristramTrio). There's some good acting too and Bethany Adams gives a strong performance to what was an otherwise essentially one dimensional lead character (her transformation as demons took control of her was particularly impressive and genuinely a little unnerving) whilst Jeff Fritz delivered the often awkward lines with an easy naturalism and a really quite impressive stage presence. And thank the dark lord for the inclusion of Kearstin Plemel and Kendrick Ong as the two sweetly evil spirits (or whatever they were) who welcomed the audience in and crept around stage with a genuinely otherworldly manner that not only made me feel that I should get to another yoga class but made it look like a whole lot of fun to be wicked. The spirits whispered asides (neatly anticipating the other characters' dialogue) and their mockery of the 'real world' on stage provided pretty much the only humour and bathos to the show that was otherwise held back by a far too predictable story delivered with often clunking exposition and the too often jarringly anachronistic dialogue. The excessive, forced earnestness of pretty much every exchange kept pushing the audience further away as each character came on to deliver yet more off stage 'news' with an excessive urgency that should have been provided by a more fleshed out plot. The show moved forward with a good pace, its just that, whilst nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, as the demons slithered about mocking the solemn 'real world' of the play I was ready to sell what remained of my own dark soul for just a little more (black) humour and a just little less melodrama to allow this potentially very fun show to really take off.
On being asked how he'd liked a show we'd seen a couple of years back a friend of mine said that he'd be satisfactorily entertained because there "were plenty of people going on and off stage". That's certainly something that Alchemista and Sunnyville (Divadlo Kampa, times vary) have going for them in a Fringe with so many 'one man' shows. But whilst Alchemista has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve for Sunnyville, other than some interesting masks, there's little else to recommend this exercise in repetition. A constant soundtrack and cartoon background rapidly slide from charming to grating as the 1950's picket fence milieu is established and re-established and re-established and the 'hi-ho' song from the 7 Dwarfs is played again and again and all you want to know is how and why did this show come into being. I know this is a student production and I don't want to be harsh but that really doesn't give them the right to throw me into something akin to a sensory deprivation chamber for nearly an hour (there were points where I felt like some white noise could have been quite a soothing antidote to the show in front of me). I thought at one point that there was going to a massive Lynchian twist to the proceedings when a family of flower pot people moved into the neighbourhood (I know it sounds pretty cool, doesn't it?) and everything I'd been drilled into expecting about this world would be turned upside down. But I had time to think a lot of things during this show and instead they just plodded on repeating what I'd seen 12 more times already with the only very slight difference that the other families now hated the flower pot people, presumably because they were different, and eventually ended up killing or burying them or something in some sort of racism or prejudice or who-cares-because-life's-too-short reference. (Just as slight point of curiosity: at one point they were throwing dog shit at the flowers who were cowering in fear. Surely flowers like shit? They'd grow stronger, no? Oh, it doesn't matter, forget it). Perhaps the most annoying thing about the show was that there had blatantly been no attempt at direction and so whilst its fantastic that these enthusiastic kids (and despite their technical difficiencies they had heart god damn it) have brought the show to Prague they will have grown precisely zippity squat as actors and performers from this process. Definitely not a show the Man Utd and Barcelona game was ever in competition with.
Jim High is co-producer at Prague's Blood, Love and Rhetoric Theatre.
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