|photo by Anna Červinková|
It is quite agreeable that the authors of this project – according to the interviews and other supplementary texts – did not have a clear idea in the beginning about what exactly they wanted to say. The ‘advertisement’ on the MeetFactory website states the following: “How do you make political theatre today? Should it mirror our age? Should it make us laugh, and thus bring us relief? Should it analyze a problem, and try to find a solution? Should it mobilize us to act? We don’t know. But we are trying somehow.” In what aspects does this performance differ from the other ones? The authors do not preconceive either a leftist or rightist position, and mainly they do not look for and point to a responsible party. Cabarets such as The Blond Beast through their commentary and ‘quoting’ of several well-known affairs aim at capturing the general miserable mood and social conditions. In my opinion, there exists a risk that the audience will be satisfied only with laughing at the stupidity of the politicians, and that’s all. Those in power are bastards who steal. Everybody knows that.
Grab that Shit! does not offer such consolation. The politicians are presented together with their buddies from the business sector. There is even a married couple in a car, who know well how these liars and corruptionists should be treated but they do not hesitate a second to corrupt a traffic police inspector. Moreover, there is – in many forms – the ordinary citizen. A victim of illegal wheeling and dealing of the higher-ups to be rushed off one’s feet randomly? Only to a certain extent. The citizen does not mind being manipulated as he is corrupted as well. Not directly by money but by promises. Those politicians, who momentarily promise more prosperity and easier solutions, could be certain of his vote and loud support. In other words the society is thoroughly corrupt, shit is omnipresent, everybody can smell the stench but no one is willing to admit it and clean it. Under all this, mostly subliminal, is the challenge articulated most clearly in the Media Song: “Think before you make up your mind/ Think before you chose/ Don’t trust everything you read/ Look for connections”.
The opening and closing scenes with president Václav Klaus attract obviously the most attention. The theatre makers use the speculations about Klaus’s closet homosexuality, and create a ‘micro-story’ leading from toilets under the bridge (where before 1989 the secret police recorded a discrediting video) to the current presidential office, where due to the influence of the video (which was later inherited by the KGB and even Vladimir Putin) Klaus together with the allegedly richest Czech businessman Petr Kellner report to the Russian ruler their achieved tasks. Beside Klaus and Kellner appears (though without being directly named) the former Mayor of Prague, Pavel Bém, and his friend (one of the so-called ‘Prague Godfathers’) Roman Janoušek. The performance includes even a drunk scene with the top leaders of Věci veřejné (the Public Affairs Party), which however does not use quotations as in The Blond Beast, but a new – and much more grotesque – text. The focus of the performance is somewhere else. In my personal view, the best scenes are those in which the authors manage to express and name the mood in society in a more general and metaphorical way.
The first scene that gave the name to the whole cabaret is particularly telling: three people are walking their dogs in a park when suddenly they smell something unpleasant. One of their darlings made a pooh. All of them know that something stinks, but no one is willing to admit it or to clean it. They debate about it for a while (they even start pushing each other) but finally they come to a conclusion that it does not concern any of them, and thus “nobody gives a shit”. It is obvious that Holiček and Tošovský view Czech society exactly like that. Nobody wants to dirty their hands with problem solving. This seemingly defeatist and in many ways traditionally satirical sketch is balanced immediately by a song called Radorap, supposedly written by one of the actors, Radovan Klučka, while he was waiting in vain for a train for more than one hour. The song is a long, rhythmical tirade full of vulgarisms. It is not clear whether it is meant as a serious, personal declaration of the authors or whether it is a parody of the contemporary fashion of ‘protest songs’ by various popular artists. Probably the best metaphor is the dance number called “Dancing across centuries” during which three actors facing the audience repeat well-known gestures in a marching tempo: “We begin with Nazi heiling, continue with a clenched left fist and Havel’s ‘Victory’ sign, and end with a raised middle finger. Later on a diamond shape appears – a sign standing for a vagina - (created by joining two ‘victory’ signs on both hands together), which when decomposed changes into VV (an abbreviation of the political party Věci veřejné)." The point is that the originally integrated sequences gradually break down, the gestures mingle, and the original ‘political’ signs retreat in order to be replaced by the obscene ones.
The authors proclaimed that “In the end we found out that we did not want to just poke fun, there is enough of that, and in our view there is no time for jokes.” Fortunately, they do not mean it literally. There are a lot of fun - cruel, daring and uncompromising jokes. The production combines two moods: total annoyance and total enjoyment of play. It is paradoxical that someone could enjoy telling and playing such things so much. But Radovan Klučka, Ivan Lupták and Marie Štípková are really charming. Dressed in dark trousers and blue, white and red T-shirts that when placed in the right position resemble not only Czech national colours but also the Russian Federation flag. On the stage, which is covered in newspaper and ‘decorated’ with three table lamps hanging, the actors need only binders with forms. They do not have any other props, yet they manage to create by simple gestures everything from a fast going car to Janoušek’s swimming pool, a meeting room of the city council of an unnamed metropolis to a lively demonstration at the main square or toilets under the bridge. Obviously, the imagination of the audience must cooperate despite the small – yet welcomed – obstacles put in their way by the director Holiček. He does not build his sketches in a descriptive way but often almost decomposes the acting space into individual, seemingly independent, spheres. Thus the Policeman bending into a car window asks for personal documents on the right side of the stage; while a Man is looking for them on the far left, and a Woman standing at the back in the centre of the stage gives him the documents. Similarly ‘decomposed’ are even the before mentioned toilets or a ride in the mayor’s car that replaces the originally intended walk in the Municipality scene. The only ‘tangible object’ of the whole production is the eponymous shit that from time to time (as a certain emphasis but it is not a rule) falls from the gridiron on the stage where it gradually creates a sticky, unpleasant and slippery base.
Alongside the before mentioned trio of actors appears also the percussionist Ondřej Dočekal. He not only divides individual scenes by clinks but he accompanies all ‘songs’. The quotation marks are indispensable here as it is mostly just rhythmical recitation with only the refrains or repetitive passages properly sung. They create an onomatopoeic background for the soloist (only rarely the songs are sung as a two-voice, once as a three-voice). The songs are composed as a collage; the voices divide the citations from real documents (a list of the attempts at reducing the immunity of the MPs, data about corruption or a study of the similarity of the intoxication by drugs and power).
Everything is simple - devoid of affectation and stylishness. It is cruelly funny. It is depressing. Some softer characters have been seen meditating while leaving the MeetFactory hesitatingly standing above the train tracks leading to the nearby railway station.
Braňo Holiček and col.: Political Cabaret or Grab that Shit!, directed by B.Holiček, stage design and costumes Nikola Tempír, music B.Holiček, dramaturgy Jan Tošovský, MeetFactory Prague, Czech premiere May 17, 2012