1 December 2008

Protest and Private View

The Vaclav Havel season at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond upon Thames continues with the another double bill, Protest and Private View.

In Protest, Vanek, a semi-autobiographical dissident writer who appears in both of these plays, visits a former colleague and they discuss the effectiveness of protest under the repressive regime.

As with Audience shown earlier in the series, the play is simply a dialogue between the two players in which aspects of live under the regime are explored.

The highlight of the play is when Vanek's colleague thinks out loud about the pros and cons of him signing a protest letter.

Signing would end his career within the regime but would make him feel morally right, it would add to the weight of the protest but may detract from the protest itself, it might actually have an impact but would stop him from being able to work behind the scenes, etc. etc.

In the end this dilemma is unsatisfactorily solved when the need for the protest goes with the release of the person concerned. Also somewhat unsatisfactory is the timid Vanek who does not come across as a leader of the protest movement. His suit also looked far too tidy for any Czech of that period, let alone a dissident. I suspect that some of these factors were down to the direction rather than the acting as they were repeated in the second play which had somebody else playing Vanek.

But the dissatisfaction with the ending does not seriously detract from what has gone before and Protest offers a compelling insight to life under the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

While Private View is also a Vanek play it is more akin to Mountain Hotel with its vacuous characters, humour and repetitive dialogue.

Vanek gets a private view of some friends' recently refurbished flat and is encouraged to admire their perfect lives, which include good taste, clever children, good cooking and good sex.

The regime is outside of the door, and is hinted at, but does not intrude into their world.

As the evening goes on the veneer of the perfect lives fades and the couple plead for Vanek to stay to add some real purpose to their existence. When he refuses at first their professed love for him turns to anger then rage until he relents and stays.

Here the characterisations and the humorous dialogue successfully carry the play to its conclusion and we get a good contrast to the first play and a winning combination.

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