King Lear at Prague Castle: Jan Triska is a tour-de-force

25-07-2003

With summer in full swing in Prague crowds have been lining up for tickets to one of the city's most exciting summer festivals - performances of Shakespeare's plays at Prague Castle. This year performances include both Hamlet as well as King Lear - last season's critically-acclaimed production starring Czech-born actor Jan Triska. Radio Prague's Jan Velinger attended the performance of Lear this week, and as you will find out, there was good reason to be impressed.

Jan Triska on stage in Prague - last year's debut of King Lear saw him return to the Czech stage after fifteen years, if possible his now legendary performance has gained even further in vitality and resonance. A tour-de-force of strength, depicting with string-like tautness the edges of human madness, frailty, and failure, in the tale of the king who suffers the consequences of old-age dotage, losing the daughter that he loves most...

Embodied in the sinewy, leaping form of Mr Triska: a Lear we have never quite seen before - beardless, almost weightless, pacing and rushing the stage, exerting an energy of emotion that belies earlier pompous, pot-bellied, and slow-minded representations of the British King. No less angered, Triska's rage cuts to the bone, lashing out at others but also lashing against himself. The emotions twist his features, at times taking on comical aspects, provoking a strange mix of laughter among the audience, at the same time increasing tension. His clueless-ness at times really is very humorous, as he looks to his men for reassurance that he is a proper man in his place. Trying to appease a growing, niggling suspicion he has succumbed to foolishness, his eyes rolling like black beans, his mouth open in stupefaction - the King!

On the other hand this Lear is also still relatively young, full of strength and pride: his first meeting with beloved Cordelia almost a lovers' dance as she tosses him a flower from the high castle ramparts. All the worse his blindness to the truth, his failure to see her love as pure. Triska's slight frame, bearing the terrible weight of realisation of his mistakes, will take all the worse for wear, when he finally cracks during the play's scene of madness. The storm breaks...

Afterwards, this is what some of the members of the audience had to say:

"Mr Triska is beautiful. It's splendid, I think. This is the biggest role for him and I think he is a mover of this scene and all this performance."

"It's perfect!"

"I haven't seen Mr Triska perform for some time so I enjoy his way of acting. It's just a very nice experience."

"I've been enjoying it. I think he puts a very human side to the character of King Lear."

"He's a great actor: one of the reasons why we came here."

Jan Triska brings a very fresh approach to this performance of King Lear, and he is helped by an excellent supporting cast, no less brave. Take the madness scene in which Jiri Langmajer sheds his rags as the frenzied Edmund, leaping onto a slab of stone. Then, who would expect Triska, in his sixties, to follow him, dancing in full view across the stage, the two madmen's giggles reverberating into the night? That, I can tell you, brought a round of cheers and spontaneous applause. David Prachar plays a brilliant Fool, and Martina Valkova and Jitka Schneiderova are deliciously evil as the ungrateful daughters Goneril and Regan, which is no less than we would expect. Finally, the overall daring direction by Martin Huba - as well as a spirited modern vernacular in the translation by Martin Hilsky - complete the package to make this an unforgettable performance.

Can one find fault with King Lear at Prague Castle? One would be really hard put to find any missteps. Perhaps only the greatest traditionalists will find Mr Triska's transformation - interpretation - too radical, but as one audience viewer I spoke with told me "Why would you want to see something you'd already seen two or three times before?". In this respect, the open-air performance at Prague Castle makes no apologies: for this moment, for this time, the new standard has been set by Jan Triska - he is King Lear.

For more information on the performance of King Lear at Prague Castle- or Kral Lear as it is known in Czech - visit www.shakespeare.cz. But, be warned, performances are only in Czech and may have already sold out. That doesn't mean it isn't worth a try.

25-07-2003