Popular Prague theatre emerges from the mud three years after floods

Karlin Musical Theatre during floods in 2002

It was exactly three years ago that devastating floods swept through the Czech Republic. One of the most seriously affected areas was the Prague district of Karlin, where flood waters were up to four metres deep. At the heart of the district one of its main landmarks, the Karlin Musical Theatre, was completely wrecked. It had been a hugely popular venue, celebrated for its operettas and musicals, but has stood empty ever since - a sombre reminder of the drama of 2002. But now a huge renovation is underway, preserving what can be kept of the original 19th century building, but introducing state-of-the-art new equipment. Martin Mikule met the theatre's producer Jan Krehla at the busy building site in Karlin to see how work is getting on.

"In terms of size it's a regular theatre but in terms of seat capacity it's the largest in Prague - it had 1,099 seats. After the reconstruction there will be about 950 - maybe 1000 seats - but there will be a larger elevation in the audience, so there will be more space for the audience, and especially, they will have a better view. And that's important."

Can you describe the theatre a little bit? What kind of architecture is it?

"The building was built in the pseudo-Baroque style in 1881. Now it will change a little bit, especially the backstage where we are standing now. It will respect the architectural policy of Karlin district but it will be a little bit modern."

Now we are standing right in front of the building. I see that big parts of it have been actually torn down. We can see lots of free space here. What is going to be built here?

Karlin Musical Theatre
"You know, all these historically unimportant buildings had to be demolished because the floods in 2002 damaged them all, so they had to tear them down. The main change will be the enlargement of the stage. It will be about twice as big as it was before so we can use modern techniques, modern staging techniques and show more to the audience. There will no longer be a small stage 15 metres by 4, but it will be large stage, 30 by 15 meters. People will see more, there will be more light, more effects, more show."

So what we see right here is the stage in its old form. Is it to be extended right here?

"Exactly. It's going to be extended twice as much. We will have truck entrance here, so with the staging equipment they won't have to go up the stairs, it will go straight to the stage. So it will be much easier, not only for the actors but also for other employees to work here."

At the moment, of course, the theatre is completely out of order. Where does the ensemble perform its shows now?

"Shortly after the floods in 2002 we moved to the Prague Congress Centre. We've been working there now for almost three years and we are about to move back to this building shortly after the end of the reconstruction which is planned for September 2006. So we are playing there all the shows that we have."

Do you already know what kind of program you are going to have in the year 2006 when you start performing in this newly reconstructed building?

"We would like to have the grand opening with a musical that has won eleven Tony Awards called 'The Producers'. It's a very large show - a new show. And that is important - we would like to have new shows, not only the old musicals from the '60s or '70s. People are not that interested in the old stuff, they would like to see new things. That said, 'The Producers' is a musical about the Second World War."