Drama over Vaclav Havel's new play

Vaclav Havel and Dagmar Havlova

After a break of 18 years, the playwright and former Czech president Vaclav Havel has finally finished a long-awaited new play. Called Odchazeni (Leaving), it has been receiving some perhaps unwelcome coverage in the media. After a few months of talks with the Czech National Theatre, Mr Havel has now decided to withdraw his play from the theatre, because it refused to cast his wife Dagmar Havlova in the main role.

The National Theatre's drama director argues that it is not possible to have two guest actors in lead roles. Vaclav Havel, however, insists that he wrote the play for his wife and confirmed it will most likely not be performed at the National Theatre. Meanwhile, other Czech as well as foreign theatres have expressed interest in staging the play. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, Na Zabradli - the theatre with which the former president is most closely associated - is not among them. Mr Havel's agent Jitka Sloupova outlines the reasons.

"Originally we held talks with the Na Zabradli theatre. But after a while we realized the play required a larger stage and more actors: simply a larger format than this theatre could offer. I think both parties have agreed on that. We are now in talks with the Divadlo Na Vinohradech and we plan to hold talks with one foreign theatre as well."

Martin Stropnicky,  photo: CTK
The director of the Divadlo Na Vinohradech Theatre is Martin Stropnicky. He says talks have just begun, but if they had a chance to stage the long-awaited play, they certainly wouldn't pass up on it.

"We are ready to discuss very seriously and to the point if this very play could be staged in our theatre. As you may know we have quite an important anniversary the next season; the Divadlo Na Vinohradech will have 100 years. So even this would be a good reason to change a bit our plans and to find means and space for this outstanding opportunity to present Mr Havel's new play."

Mr Stropnicky also made it clear that he fully respected Havel's wish to cast his wife Dagmar, a popular Czech comic actress who used to be a long-term member of Divadlo Na Vinohradech, in the main role.

"I was not involved in the negotiations with the National Theatre so I don't know the precise conditions of the author. But if you talk about the main role for an actress, the wife of the ex-president, I have not the slightest problem with it. On the contrary: once he wrote it fore her and the play is to a certain extent quite personal, it's a very good thing to choose Dasa Havlova for this very role. That's not something insurmountable. For us she isn't a stranger but a member of the family so to speak."

Divadlo Na Vinohradech
The final version of the play has only been available for the last two months, and only to a privileged circle of readers. It is now being translated into all major European languages, with the English translation done by Havel's official translator Paul Wilson, under the provisional title "Leaving". Martin Stropnicky is one of the lucky ones who has had a chance to read the play but he isn't willing to reveal that much.

"I would limit myself to saying that it's a very interesting and very good play doing that because of the fact that even the author was a bit reluctant to talk about the play. The play should be really staged and only then discussed. So let's take it as it is. It's a very interesting and very, very good play with deep thoughts and humour as well."