Czechs treading the boards at the Edinburgh fringe festival

13-08-2008

The Edinburgh fringe is one of the biggest arts festivals in the world, with the Scottish capital more than doubling in population during the three weeks each August when the fringe takes place. Parks, churches and even public toilets are all transformed into venues, attracting performers and visitors from all over the globe. This year, five Czech theatre groups are in Edinburgh to perform at the festival. They are part of the ‘Czech Republic @ The Fringe’ season, coordinated by Ladislav Pflimpfl from the Czech Centre in London. I caught up with him in Edinburgh recently to ask whether the Czech Centre had taken a risk planning such a Czech theatre showcase:

“I might sound a bit too confident, but I don’t think we took such a risk, because we knew what we were doing, we knew that the companies we invited here have a good chance of succeeding. We would never put them knowingly in a position where they would put too much at risk. I think they have a very, very good chance of succeeding, and I’m quite sure they will.”

Can you tell me a bit about the people you have brought here - the five theatre companies you have brought here - and were they fit into current Czech theatre more generally?

“By selecting these five companies, we actually tried to cover most of what is happening in Czech dance and physical theatre. Dot 504 is representing purely dance theatre, while Skutr and Archa theatre is bringing ‘The Weepers’ which is more physical theatre. Polaris is mime performance and physical theatre as well, and Teatr Novogo Fronta does excellent outdoor performances and street theatre. So they don’t really overlap, they don’t compete with each other, but still, they introduce the Czech theatrical scene in a wide, general way, and I think it provides an excellent overview of what is going on in the Czech Republic.

“There is also one other company which is rather unusual, it is a company formed by deaf graduates of the theatre academy in Brno. They have brought two performances here for children, and I think that this is quite unique for the entire fringe.”

But will there be a language barrier between these Czech theatrical groups and Scottish audiences? Do you think that language barrier will matter?

“This is the Edinburgh fringe and I think there must be hundreds of languages being spoken on the street. I don’t think anyone thinks this is a barrier. The more languages people speak here, the more fun. People take it as a fact and they are very much willing to accept it. People even take it as an advantage – it is more colourful, you meet more new cultures that way, you see more new things.”

The Edinburgh fringe is known for being a little bit of everything. Why, then, did you decide to make this whole formal Czech programme, when the fringe is so famously chaotic and such a hotch-potch?

“Because, from one point of view, the Edinburgh fringe is a cultural festival and a place to showcase art and meet audiences. From our point of view, the Czech Centre is a public diplomacy agency, and our role is not only to promote Czech culture, but to promote the Czech Republic as a whole as a country. So we have teamed up with agencies such as Czech Tourism and the City of Prague, and we are promoting not only Czech theatre, but the Czech Republic as a destination where you can meet creative people, where you can visit Prague and other places, where you can collaborate with theatres, venues, cultural centres and so on. So, it is a more complex presentation than a theatre showcase, if you like. It might look like a theatre showcase, but there is more to it.”

13-08-2008