Local Theatre Company Brings Out the Blood, Love, and Rhetoric

For seven years now, BLR have been entertaining Prague audiences

English-language theatre companies in Prague come and go, but Blood, Love, and Rhetoric have just enough tricks up their sleeve to keep audiences coming back for more.

For seven years now, BLR have been entertaining Prague audiences with their offbeat take on theatre. Formed in 2009 by Logan Hillier, Jim High, and Matthew Blood-Smyth, the group was born out of a desire to try something different. “Myself and Jim met in the Prague Playhouse Playwriting Contest,” says Hillier, one of the company’s current directors and head of Performing Arts at the English College in Prague. “We’d both been working with other companies and I guess we wanted to do our own thing.”

Sidestepping the usual preoccupations of Anglo-Saxon theatre (Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams), the company has opted for a more continental take, focusing on the canon of top European playwrights: Ibsen, Havel, Chekov, Strindberg, Pinter.

“Teaching theatre, coming from England, growing up in the classic English environment of musicals and Shakespeare – endlessly recycled – I really wanted to do something different,” explains Hillier. “I grew up near Stratford so I’ve had enough of Shakespeare.”

This dedication to Europeanness and multiculturalism extends to the company’s players as well, who hail from a number of different nations – England, Czech Republic, France, and Norway, to name only a few. “We wanna avoid that expat, kind of insular, island mentality that sometimes creeps in. European is our main thing, because this is Europe.”

Their darkly funny and irreverent style is another thing that sets them apart from other English-language theatre groups in Prague, and whether they’re performing a tragedy written a hundred years ago or a musical about a herna bar, the blood, love, and rhetoric is always present. “We mainly focus on dark comedy because dark comedy resonates with the audience. We’ve done tragedies and dramas. The dramas that we’ve done, we’ve pulled out enough comedy to make them funny because effectively that’s what our audience wants – they want to enjoy themselves.”

Aside from the regular productions they put on (they’ve over fifty to date), BLR also runs an improv night every Thursday. The show typically features several BLR players forced by the audience to create scenes with as little as five seconds for preparation. They are playful and absurd, high on audience participation, and offer a glimpse into how the creative mind can work under pressure. In the night I attended, I witnessed the escape of two whales from an abusive master at Seaworld, participated in a bit where the actors’ only movement could come from an audience member shifting their limbs for them, and saw two players recount an entire story about a particularly ugly encounter with a bear while only saying one word each at a time.

Jim High, one of the theatre’s other directors who runs the improv night, explains to me the appeal of improv: “It’s seeing an actor push themselves to the limits, put themselves in complete danger, and go beyond what they can control and mess up, and then accepting that with grace.

“[Also] when they come away having seen a complete and whole narrative unfold before them – that’s immensely satisfying to them.”

Overall, the company aims to make theatre as entertaining and accessible as possible, whether that be through their dedication to great writing, great production values, and great actors, or the reasonably-priced tickets to their shows. “We’ve just been taking baby-steps and steadily building our audience. Our audience likes what we do, they come back, they know what they’re paying for.”

The group will be presenting their production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House on February 13th and 14th at Studio Alt. Tickets are available from their website for 220 CZK (180 CZK for students and per person in groups of five). The improv nights are every Thursday at 8 PM at Trick Bar and cost 180 CZK at the door.

For more information on Blood, Love, and Rhetoric, please see their website.

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