Czech-English theatre group performs "Jacques and his Master"


In this week's Arts we look at some of the developments in the Czech world of film and will be hearing from the director of a Czech-English production of Milan Kundera's adaptation of Jacques and his Master, that's currently being performed at one of Prague's theatres:

The nominees for the Orange British Academy Film Awards in 2003 were announced on 27th January 2003 and although no Czech production made it to the "Film not in the English language" category, one did make the nomination for short animation - Lucie Wenigerova's "Sap", described as a story of two travelling monks who meet and part on more than one occasion. The close to eight minute film was directed by Wenigerova's school mate at the National Film and Television School in Britain, Kim Hyun-Joo, and was made according to the traditional oil-on-glass technique, without using the popular digital effects. Sap has already won several awards, such as the Silver Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival, but the nomination for the BAFTA (Britain's equivalent to the Oscars) is the highest distinction so far. The Orange British Academy Film Awards in 2003, will be hosted by Stephen Fry and will be held on Sunday 23rd February at the Odeon on London's Leicester Square.

And staying with the world of film. The Czech Film and Television Academy will be announcing its nominees for the Cesky Lev or "Czech Lion" film awards this Wednesday, February 5 at Prague's Lucerna cinema. According to Academy Chairman Petr Vachler, Wednesday will also see the official announcement of the winners of the following categories: best foreign film, best film poster, and best film chosen by the readers of the Cinema magazine. The Czech Critics' Award will also be presented to the best Czech film. This year, a new prize - the Sazka prize - will be introduced for the best screenplay for feature films that have not been produced yet. A total of 81 scripts was sent in. It is yet unclear whether the awards will have a Best Documentary category, as according to Mr Vachler, there is a lack of Czech documentaries with often only one or two making it to the screens of Czech cinemas. The tenth Cesky Lev award ceremony will be held on March 1 at Prague's Lucerna Ball room and will be hosted by Czech actor Jaroslav Dusek.

Those of you living in Prague, longing to see a play in English, need to wait no more as a Czech-English theatre company is currently performing Milan Kundera's adaptation of Denis Diderot's "Jacques and his Master". The production, which has a mixed cast of both experienced and amateur actors is directed by the Canadian John McKillop, who told Radio Prague why and how it came about:

"It's my experience of ex-pat theatre here in Prague. It's all been re-runs of Saturday Night Live in the United States, it's all stand-up comedy based. It has nothing to do with being here, living here, working here and being with the people here. There hasn't been much sharing from what I have seen of ex-pat theatre here in Prague. I identified it and I thought that this has got to change. The ex-pats who are here in this theatre company thank you for letting us work in Prague and there is a recognition that there is something to be exchanged here between the Czech community and the ex-pat community. Just to get them both working together by picking Czech playwrights in English translation. We're both listening to each other. I have this dream that we can one day - because a couple of people in the cast are completely fluent in Czech - actually do a production of Waiting for Godot with the same cast but with two different directors. A Czech director and a native English speaking director."

But how long have the actors in the theatre group been working together and how did you find them?

"I found most of the native-speaking contingent in the church that I go to, St. Clement's, which is the Anglican community here in Prague. Gerald Turner and Gordon Trueffit - Jacques and his master - are both parishioners at St. Clement's as well as Sara [Carson-Smith] who plays the inn keeper. We are all parishioners at the church. But we have been through so many cast changes and I have to say quite honestly that it's been on the Czech contingent side as they didn't realise the commitment that was involved and agreed before they realised it. That's the reason why I'm in this play right now. It's because I couldn't replace an actor in time to do the role. I'm just pleased that people with the calibre of acting, Gordon Trueffit, Gerry Turner, and everybody else gave their time."

What about the commitment that was involved, how often did rehearsals take place?

"We started in September but we were only rehearsing on week-ends. Then Christmas came in the way and everyone had two weeks off. The show was not ready and it was a giant pull from everybody to get it ready."

You've directed before but is this the first time that you've directed a play such as this one, that have ex-pats and Czechs work together?

"Yes. But I've actually directed this play before in Slovakia with a completely Slovak university group and that's really where the idea came from."

So how successful was it there?

"It was funny. You can't compare the two productions especially because certain people on this stage are professionals and experienced. But it was an experience."

What about the costumes? Where did you get them from and who has been financing this for you?

"You know how things work in the Czech Republic - everything's connections. We have people in the cast who have connections at Narodni Divadlo [the National Theatre] and its costume department has been extremely helpful to us. They appreciated what we were going for... we weren't going for a full costume piece. You can see how people come in at the beginning of the play and just put on pieces of this and pieces of that. I know they were probably looking at me in dread fearing that I wanted a full costume piece so they were really happy when I said that I just wanted a little bit of this and a little bit of that. So, they have been super to us. Basically, we have the costumes for three weeks but they are giving them to us at half price and they are only charging us for three performances and not six, for thirty Czech crowns a night. People have been extremely helpful and it is because they have seen the brochure both in Czech and English on what we are about."

And for those of you who are interested in seeing the play - it's being performed at the "Divadlo U Hasicu" on February 4,5. For reservations, please call Sandra Fresova-McKillop at 732 525 716 or the box office at 222 518 716.