Thursday, 7 February 2013

Prague, day 2

My second day in Prague started with bright sunshine, something I really had not expected to see at all (and neither had anyone else seemingly). I had a quick coffee and went out with my camera to the river and took some photographs across to the castle and of the buildings in the neighbourhood of my hotel, before coming back to meet Petra Jišová, who had very kindly offered to be my guide for the day.

As with Richard, her English was incredibly good and we talked as we walked.  Like Richard, she was very, very good company.  Petra had come armed with a piece of paper listing all the things she hoped she would include in the walk.  I don't know if we ever covered them all, but we saw a lot and I am very grateful to her.

We walked over the Legii bridge and up Národni to Wencesclas Square and the Old Town.  I took some more photos of the famous clock - looking all nicer with the gilding glowing in the sunshine.  There were surprisingly few people about, given what a lovely morning it was.  We went into the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, which dominates the square.  That is a solid gold effigy of the Virgin Mary between the towers, apparently.  The most memorable thing about it was that it was many, many degrees colder inside than out.  We could see our own breath in there.

We went to the Jewish quarter, although we did not go into anything, and then walked back along the Charles Bridge with its famous statues (although few of them are original) and crossed the river to meet Kristyna Kamenická for lunch.

We visited a church - which I think was called the Church of Our Lady Victorious - in which there is a statue of the infant Jesus that has a seemingly unending wardrobe of clothes.  Some of the older ones are in a little museum above the nave.

This church and many others around town had their Christmas nativity scenes still in place.  I said that in the UK we have a tradition that Christmas ends at Epiphany and Petra said it was the same in the Czech Republic.  She was as surprised by it as I was.

Lunch was in the Kolkovna Olympia restaurant in the Lesser Town.  I had email contact with Kristyna and it was nice to meet her in person.  She told me how nervous everyone was in the theatre company.  I'm not sure why they had allowed themselves to care so much about what I thought, but they clearly did.  I tried to explain to everyone that I was very pleased to have them choose my work to perform and I really was happy for them to make any creative decisions they felt they had to.

We wandered over to the theatre - Divadlo Kampa - stopping on route to look at some bizarre giant bronze babies by David Černy.  Incidentally my guide, Petra, gave herself a very hard time because she confused, momentarily, sculptor with sculpture.  This was just about her only mistake during the whole day.  I just wished I could speak any language so fluently.  We also looked at the John Lennon wall - a wall of ever-changing graffiti.

Much as with the signings, my default expectations were set very low, and I was surprised to see a queue and people apparently being turned away.  We took our seats and I was so happy to see Richard, Milan and Alena from Argo, as well as Dominika, my interpreter from the book signing.

Here I am sitting next to Petra.  I don't look very happy - but the play hadn't started yet! The theatre space was small and intimate and seemed perfect for the play.  I could not make any judgement about the adaptation because I speak no Czech, but audience contained many children and they seemed completely enthralled by what they were watching.

Visually I thought it looked great.  The cast were very good - even without being able to understand the words, I could tell that - and there was a clever device used throughout, which consisted of a video feed being projected onto a screen behind the actors.  The screen showed a dolls house separated into different rooms all related to the action.  The interiors of the rooms were genuinely odd and unsettling, a mixture of objects, furniture and photo montage.  It worked really well.

The cast were Lucie Radimerská, Lenka Vahalová, Jana Valentová, Petr Florián, Josef Horák, Michael Hnátek, and Dušan Sitek.  Petr played Edgar, and Dušan played Uncle Montague.  The director was Ewa Zembok and she is sitting on the right dressed in black.

 After the performance Petra took me up to the castle, heading up the hill by tram.  It was very cold in the wind up there but it was great to see the cathedral at night, bristling with gargoyles.  There were very few people about and we passed very few on the walk down the hill to the party the theatre company had kindly invited me to celebrate the opening.

We sat in a back room around a long table and drank some wine and ate some very nice food.  I had a chance to talk to the Ewa, the director, and members of the cast, as well as other friends and family.  I had a long talk with René Nekuda, a young playwright, whose work Theatre Puls will be performing next.  It was great to be in the middle of such a lovely group of young, creative and intelligent people, all trying to make their way in the arts - a difficult thing in any country.

I was exhausted by about eleven o'clock and decided that I'd forced these people to speak English long enough.  I said my goodbyes and went back to my hotel, hoping very much that I will get to come back and meet up with some of these people again.

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