17 October 2008

Leaving by Vaclav Havel

The new season at the Orange Tree theatre begins with the English language premier of Leaving, the latest play by Vaclav Havel.

Leaving is a highly entertaining, if confusing, play. The main theme is the leaving of office of Chancellor Rieger and his eviction from the state villa which has been his home by the new political heavyweight in the country, Deputy Minister Klein.

This theme provides the thread through the play from which several other themes hang.

Some of these themes are also to do with leaving, such as the transfer of allegiances from one person to another and the many exists and entrances made by the large cast, some of whom seem to have little role in the play other to go on and off stage.

We also get a scene in Shakespearean dialogue, wild dancing to the European anthem, many references to cherries and orchard, drinking and womanising, silent partners, slow-motion fights and a naked man.

Some of the complexity is explained, or perhaps excused is a better word, by an occasional spoken commentary provided by Vaclav Havel himself.

The Orange Tree delivers all this with a single staging of a table and bench in the garden of the villa. Good use is made of the theatre's four exits to provide depth of movement.

As always, the proximity to the action that you get at the Orange Tree adds to the feeling that you are participating rather than watching, particularly when you have to move your feet to make way for a busy of Gandhi or when one of the cast turns to speak to you.

The acting is also good with all the performances being at least convincing and usually better than that. I particularly liked Carolyn Backhouse's portrayal of Chancellor Rieger's long-term companion (i.e. mistress) who is rude to servants, fawning in front of cameras, betrayed by Rieger but ultimately forgiving and humble.

The only minor gripe I had, and it shows how sad I am that this is even a gripe, is that the four chairs at the garden table are set as they would be in England whereas in the Czech Republic they would be in two pairs side-by-side opposite each other (something like EO3).

But don't let the arrangement of the chairs put you off, this is well worth seeing.

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