by Vaclav Havel translated by Tomas Rychetsky and Carol Rocamora.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 1 October 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 8, 15, 22 Sept 2.30pm (+ post-show discussion).
Audio-described 24 Sept 24 3pm, 27 Sept.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Carole Woddis 2 September.
Absorbing if complex look at the dangers to Democracy.
The Orange Tree theatre and Sam Walters have done as much as anyone to alert British audiences to Czech writer Václav Havel. Their’s is a very special relationship. So it’s appropriate in this, Walters 40th anniversary season – itself an extraordinary achievement – that the season should kick off with the British premiere of Havel’s 1971 play The Conspirators.
Havel probably knows more about the inner workings of dictators and revolution than any other modern playwright. After all, he’s lived it, from dissident writer to political activist to President of his country.
Havel’s semi auto-biographical Leaving (2008), his last play to be staged at the Orange Tree, showed us the psychological disassociation that occurs when a leader steps down from power. The earlier Conspirators, by contrast, is a blow-by-blow account showing us post-revolutionary turbulence triggered by a single arrest and the demonstrations that follow. One can only wonder as to the accuracy of Havel’s portrayal in reference to present day Libya. Or indeed, judging by recent events and revelations, its relevance nearer home.
As political analysis, it’s wholly absorbing if sometimes bewilderingly complex as politicians and Chiefs of Police, Law, Army and Intelligence service jostle and conspire, justifying their actions and betrayals in the name variously of securing democracy or “the good of the nation”.
As an early work, Havel watchers may find The Conspirators surprisingly naturalistic – at least in Walters’ firm and beautifully cast production. In later plays Havel turned decidedly more satirical and metaphorical. But here, the observation is acute and though touched with satire, direct: hunger for power is equated with violence in other quarters, namely sexual – nowhere more than in an extraordinary sado-masochistic scene between David Rintoul’s ripplingly macho Chief of Police and Lucy Tregear’s manipulative and influential power-broker, Helga, described as “a rich widow”.
Ultimately, Havel’s warning/message seems to be, as with the pre-Hitler Weimar Republic, democracy’s extreme vulnerability – be it due to personal agendas, misanthropic malevolence or even cool legal calculation as embodied in Christopher Ravenscroft’s superb State Prosecutor, himself not adverse to a spot of spanking. Would you trust democracy in these hands? Hardly.
Major Ofir, Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff: Paul Gilmore.
Dykl, State Prosecutor: Christopher Ravenscroft.
Aram, Head of Censorship: Kieron Jecchinis.
Colonel Moher, Chief of Police: David Rintoul.
Helga, a rich widow: Lucy Tregear.
Evil, her son: James Corscadden.
Miriam, her niece: Jill McAusland.
Milena, her maid: Kate Lamb.
Edith, wife to Dykl: Claire Vousden.
Ruth, Secretary to Dykl: Mona Goodwin.
Pepi) Bodyguards to Moher: Neal Craig.
Bobo) Joel Kangudi.
Matous, Special Secretary at Police Headquarters: James Corscadden.
Alfred Stein, Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister/Xiboj, a Judge: Alister Cameron.
Venda, Chief Interrogator/Prime Minister: Vincent Brimble.
Director: Sam Walters.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Costume: Robyn Wilson.
Fight director: Philip d’Orléans.
Assistant designer: Kate Mills.
Trainee directors: Polina Kalinina and Karima Setchy
British premiere of The Conspirators at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, Surrey 31 August 2011.