New English language production of Cimrman play staged in Prague

'The Conquest of the North Pole', photo: archive of Cimrman English studio

After the success of the first-ever English production of Jára Cimrman plays, The Stand-In, the English speaking audience now has a chance to get acquainted with another of the fictional character’s plays. Dobytí severního pólu or The Conquest of the North Pole is now being staged in Prague’s Jára Cimrman Theatre by the Cimrman English studio, a group of Prague-based, English-speaking actors.

'The Conquest of the North Pole',  photo: archive of Cimrman English studio
I spoke to the director Brian Stewart of the Cimrman English studio and I first asked him to explain what the play is about:

“The play’s events are set in 1908 and it is about four members of a swimming society, who decide to go to the North Pole. So they set off first thing in the morning, get a light training by swimming in the waters near the National Theatre. Then in the afternoon they get on the train and they set off to the North Pole.

“So it is a story of four incompetent men who decide that they are going to conquer the North Pole. They start off and within time they begin to lose their way and they run out of food. So the story evolves around the four characters and their relationships to one another.”

What was your reason for choosing this particular play? Do you think it will be more accessible to the English speakers?

Brian Stewart,  photo: Ian Willoughby
“I don’t think so. I think Stand In was very accessible to English speakers and also to Czechs who have an interest in the English version of it. It is a very different play to the Stand-In. And my understanding is that this is one of the most popular Cimrman plays. They always prefer the Conquest of the North Pole to the Stand In.”

What challenges did you have to overcome when translating the play?

“There are lots of word puns that are very difficult to translate, so you have to come up with an alternative, but that’s the way it is when you are translating any play. You have to try and find an alternative which means something in your language and at the same time captures some of the essence of the original language.”

Do you expect the audience to be English or Czech?

'Stand-In',  photo: archive of Cimrman English studio
“We have a mixture. There are Czechs coming to the performances because they are curious about how it is done in English. There are also Czechs with English speaking partners and for years they have been trying to get them to understand Cimrman and what it means. And now at last they can understand it. They come and see the show and get an insight into this great Czech genius.”

And will The Conquest of the North Pole be followed by other productions?

“We hope so, but so far translation s in the future. When that will happen, we don’t really know. That’s not really down to this little English theatre.”