Few shows at Prague Fringe consciously set out to exploit what makes this event different from the copycat mini-Edinburghs hosted by cities across the world; its targeting of both the English-speaking and Czech demographics. I was especially curious about “False Friends,” a bilingual comedy penned by Stu Mentha, as it’s squarely aimed at both of these audiences. A noble enough idea but is it really possible to stage a successful drama in two different languages?
The scenario is one that many expats can relate to: the difficulties of finding yourself on the other side of the world, trying to make it work with a romantic partner of another nationality. As our Aussie hero, Darren, is concerned, his employment options abroad are limited to wiping arses or teaching English. Of course, the challenges of adapting to life in a foreign land are further complicated by the fact that poor Darren is being pursued by three Czech ghosts determined to use him to escape from purgatory.
It takes a little too long in my view for the two worlds—that of the departed Czechs, one of whom insists on making repeated suicide attempts despite the fact he’s already dead, and of the newly reunited living couple—to collide, but once they do, there are plenty of laughs to be had. Some of the jokes derive from linguistic confusion (the “false friends” of the title), like the moment when Darren calls out “Police!” which actually means “shelf” in Czech, instead of policie. Others stem from the ghosts’ largely unsuccessful attempts to make themselves understood to a terrified Darren. Sometimes Darren blurts out some of what he overhears to his bemused girlfriend who concludes that he must be trying to master cesky to impress her—until he unwittingly calls her something nasty.
It’s a shame that the subtitles aren’t quite in sync with the fast-paced action onstage, but I’m yet to see a play that manages to get that completely right.
Frenetic, farcical, and bizarre, “False Friends” has enough funny bits to make for an entertaining evening at the theatre. The pace may flag at some points but the actors’ performances were engaging and overall the show held my attention until the end.
My verdict? This is a spooky tale worth seeing.