All of Prague’s a Stage this Spring

From Shakespeare to Cimrman, Havel and more, English-friendly theater is on the rise in the Czech capital

The Czechs are a theater-going culture no doubt about it, but if you haven’t quite grasped the language enough to hear Havel performed in his mother tongue, where does that leave you?

With a myriad of options. A recent upswing in English-friendly productions and newly subtitled original Czech plays all mean that spring is prime time for theater lovers in Prague.

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While the current surge in English-friendly performances is something new for fans of local theater, Markéta Schatzová, director of Prague Shakespeare Company, says that the tradition of English-language theater in Prague actually goes all the way back to the days of the Bard himself:

Macbeth at Prague Shakespeare Company
Macbeth at Prague Shakespeare Company

“It is believed that Robert Browne’s acting troupe perhaps gave the first performances of Shakespeare’s plays in English in Prague as early as 1596. Historical accounts confirm that Brown and his men returned to Prague to play in English in 1603 and then later in 1619.”

Ms. Schatzová confirms that Prague is a world destination for all things Shakespearean in 2016, which commemorates the poet’s 400th birthday.

“[From now until December 2016] PSC400 will present the entire canon of Shakespeare’s work – all 41 plays and all of his 162 poetical works – in a wide variety of public performances including theater, dance, puppet, mime, music, and visual art presentations.”

Venus in Furs at Prague Shakespeare Company
Venus in Furs at Prague Shakespeare Company

PSC performances, which include non-Shakespeare works like David Ives’ “Venus in Furs,” take place at the historic Divadlo Kolowrat, Estates Theatre, and, occasionally, in the Kolowrat’s Swan pub.

If anyone is more prolific than Shakespeare, at least in his own mind, it would have to be the greatest Czech you’ve never heard of, Jára Cimrman, whose theaterical antics have in recent years been adapted for the stage by the Cimrman English Theatre.

The Stand-In / Photo: Cimrman English Theatre Facebook
The Stand-In / Photo: Cimrman English Theatre Facebook

Last month saw the premiere of a new English translation of the Cimrman play “The Conquest of the North Pole” which will be performed through summer at the Jara Cimrman theater in Žižkov together along with “The Stand-In” (which debuted in 2014 to sell-out audiences).

Translator and cast member Brian Stewart says that it isn’t just native speakers who benefit from the current proliferation of English-friendly stage productions:

“It opens your production to a wider audience…This gives our company a huge amount of extra satisfaction because we are able to extend the reach of Cimrman to a number of people of different nationalities for whom English is their second language.” 

The Conquest of the North Pole / Photo: Cimrman English Theatre Facebook
The Conquest of the North Pole / Photo: Cimrman English Theatre Facebook

Cimrman in English has become so popular that shows have been added to accomodate demand.

And it’s not just English-language performances that are finding a wider fan base; more and more Czech theaters are beginning to see the value of subtitling their repertoire for foreign audiences.

Alexandra Polakova a spokesperson for the acclaimed Divadlo Na zábradlí says that their theater will continue to add English-language-friendly performances to its future line-up:

Velvet Havel / Photo: Divadlo Na zábradlí Facebook
Velvet Havel / Photo: Divadlo Na zábradlí Facebook

“We are preparing English subtitles for “Hamlet” by Jan Mikulášek and “Velvet Havel” about president Václav Havel.” 

She says that she has definitely seen an upswing in expat visitors to their theater, particularly for “Europeana” a stage adaptation of a book by Patrik Ouředník about European history.

Other performance options for the spring and summer months include the Prague Youth TheatrePrague Fringe Festival, the city’s premiere English-language theater festival now in its 15th year, and the edgy cult-favorite Blood, Love & Rhetoric company, which today kicks off a four-night run of the hit play (and Polanski film) “Gods of Carnage” in addition to its regularly sold-out improv night.

Gods of Carnage / Photo: Blood, Love & Rhetoric Facebook
Gods of Carnage / Photo: Blood, Love & Rhetoric Facebook

Those attending any of these diverse performances, however, may notice one striking similarity: the actors. Of the English-theater scene in Prague, Mr. Stewart adds:

“We don’t tread on each other’s toes. Maybe the only conflict we have is that the pool of good English-speaking actors in Prague is finite so we all vie to recruit them for our own productions.” 

Despite the familiar faces popping up (in one week I saw actor Peter Hosking play King Duncan in “Macbeth” and Karel Němec in “North Pole”) Mr. Stewart adds:

“I think you can never have too much theatre and I hope there will be more English theatre in Prague.”

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