English production of Havel play to be staged by Orange Tree Theatre

Václav Havel, photo: CTK

Rehearsals for Václav Havel’s new play Leaving kicked off at Prague’s Archa Theatre last week, with the world premiere slated for May 22. The work is Mr Havel’s play in 18 years after an amazing career in politics, so it’s not surprising it is being greeted with excitement. Now it has also been announced that the Orange Tree Theatre in London will stage the English-language premiere of Leaving this autumn.

Václav Havel, photo: CTK
Excitement over Leaving – Mr Havel’s first play in nearly two decades – has been on the rise. For some time there was a measure of controversy over which Prague theatre would stage the play (the National and Vinohrady Theatres were named earlier) but Mr Havel finally reached agreement with Archa - known for cutting edge productions. Leaving, about a figure stepping down from an important political post, will star Mr Havel’s wife, Dagmar, as well as the other respected Czech actors. But Prague’s is not the only highly-awaited production: another will be the first English-language staging planned by London’s Orange Tree Theatre. Earlier I spoke to Renata Clark from the Czech Centre in London. She confirmed that the theatre and the centre would be cooperating on a number of related events.

“As far as I am aware Orange Tree is planning to hold a full Havel festival in the autumn, which would kick-off with Leaving on September 24. the festival will run until December 13 and will present five different Havel plays. Basically three months of Havel at the Orange Tree Theatre, which should also be part of the 40th anniversary of 1968. The Czech Centre would like to add a number of events, including the new release of the book To the Castle and Back by Mr Havel and Karel Hvížďala or even to show a new documentary about Mr Havel’s career called Citizen Havel.”

So aptly-timed you’re saying, because of the anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion…

“Definitely. Obviously much of this is very much associated with the ‘60s as well as the Orange Tree Theatre’s own history. Orange Tree was one of the only English theatres – if not the only one – who championed Mr Havel’s plays over 30 years [during Communism] and supported Charter 77 in the fight for democracy.”

What kind of impact do you think Mr Havel’s play will have on the English/Czech audience?

“I think that obviously because there was such a ‘gap’ in his artistic output many people will be very curious about what Mr Havel has to say. Many might know him only as a great politician or ambassador of democracy and might slightly forget that he is a playwright and a successful one. So, those who haven’t had experience seeing or reading his work will be curious about what he has to say and those who do will be interested to know what has changed and how his writing has been influenced by his political career.”