One of Prague's most venerable theatres is celebrating its 90th birthday this week. From playing host to such stars as Jan Werich and Jiri Voskovec in the 1930s to Helena Vondrackova and Marta Kubisova in the 1960s, the Rokoko theatre has always had a reputation for providing top-quality entertainment for Prague audiences. Nevertheless, despite the festive atmosphere surrounding its anniversary celebrations, the curtain seems set to fall in this theatre for the last time.
The Rokoko's lease at a theatre in Wenceslas Square has recently been terminated by Prague's municipal authorities. Current artistic director Vladimir Cepek says it's a sad end for a leading theatrical institution with an illustrious past, which became a hit with local audiences almost as soon as it opened nine decades ago:
"It was founded in 1915 and for the next fifty years or so there was cabaret theatre here. It was quite important in this era because many famous actors worked here. All the stars of the First Republic acted here at some point. It was quite famous."
In recent years, the Rokoko has also developed a name for producing interesting, experimental productions by up-and-coming Czech writers. Thomas Zielinski works as a director with the Rokoko theatre:
"We try to be a little bit provocative in the themes we pick up. We try to work with new Czech drama, kind of like what the Royal Court does in London - to pick up new writers. We also try to see theatre not only as theatre itself, but also as a platform for opinions about life today, political questions and the things going on around us."
In an era when many of Prague city centre's main entertainment venues stage mainstream plays and musicals that are better known for their glitzy production values than real artistic endeavour, Thomas Zielinski says the Rokoko's policy of putting on experimental new plays makes it as important a cultural institution today as it ever was in the past:
"Well, it's the last working theatre on Wenceslas Square in the city centre. Today I think it is quite important in Prague because it shows an unconventional and political type of theatre for young people, which is important. That's the position the Rokoko theatre now occupies in Prague cultural life."
As part of its 90th-birthday celebrations, the Rokoko will be hosting a number of special events including a gala screening of a documentary on the history of the theatre and a cabaret show reliving the glory days of the theatre's golden age in the 1930s. Another highlight will be a special reprise performance by one-time Rokoko regulars such as Marta Kubisova.
It appears that these anniversary events will be something of a bittersweet coda for the Rokoko, which is due to close in the summer.
Although those working at the theatre hope that they might be able to continue its traditions somewhere else, Thomas Zielinski is less than sanguine about what will now become of the Rokoko's famous venue on Prague's main thoroughfare:
"I think it's going to be a swimming pool or maybe a topless bar where drunk British tourists can enjoy their bachelor parties. Maybe this won't happen, but I do think it will finish as a cultural platform for the city of Prague."
Anyone wanting to find out more about the Rokoko and its 90th-birthday celebrations can visit its website at www.rokoko.cz
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