Prague’s legendary Semafor theatre celebrates 60 years

Foto: APF ČRo

This week marks 60 years since the foundation of the legendary Semafor theatre in Prague, established by the song-writing duo Jiří Suchý and Jiří Šlitr. The theatre, which saw its heyday in the 1960s, produced some of the biggest Czech pop hits ever and helped to launch the careers of many Czech singers and actors, including Waldemar Matuška, Eva Pilarová and Karel Gott.

The first production by the Semafor theatre saw its premiere on October 30, 1959 in Prague’s Divadlo Ve smečkách. The musical comedy, called Člověk z půdy or The Man from the Loft, scored an immediate success. It went on to see more than 220 performances and many of its songs became instant hits, including Včera neděle byla or Yesterday was Sunday, featuring a young Pavlína Filipovská.

Photo: Archive of Semafor | Photo: Divadlo Semafor
Already with its first performance, Semafor marked the start of a new era of Czech theatre. Semafor is the Czech word for traffic light, but it is also an acronym for SEdm MAlých FORem or seven different theatre and musical genres Semafor had in its repertoire, including film, poetry, jazz, puppetry, dance, fine art and cabaret.

With its second play, Jonáš and Tingl Tangl, featuring Jiří Šlitr in his first acting role, Semafor achieved a cult status and established Šlitr and Jiří Suchý as a well-known duo. The theatre also got its own venue in the Alfa passage on Wenceslas Square, where it remained until 1993.

The golden era of Semafor came to an abrupt end with the unexpected death of Jiří Šlitr in 1969. Suchý decided to carry on and established a new partnership with the actress Jitka Molavcová.

In the 1970s, Suchý signed a document supporting the anti-Communist opposition and was forced to step down as Semafor’s director. In 1972, despite Communist persecution, Suchý wrote his most popular play ever, called Kytice or A Bouquet of Folk Legends, which was staged more than 600 times.

Jitka Molavcová and Jiří Suchý,  photo: Dušan Dostál/Semafor
In 1989, Jiří Suchý returned to the post of Semafor’s director to face all kinds of new challenges, from financial difficulties to devastating floods in 2002, when the company was based in Karlín.

Despite all the setbacks, the Semafor theatre, which is now located in Prague’s Dejvice district, still carries on. To mark its 60th birthday, Jiří Suchý has prepared a special show: “The performance is called ‘Semafor has a birthday’, with a subtitle ‘the best of the worst’. Of the 125 plays we have performed to this day, there were 16 flops.

“Each of these flops had its great moments, which made people laugh even if they didn’t manage to save the overall performance. So I decided to put these scenes together and call it the best of the worst.”

The anniversary of the legendary Prague theatre will be also marked by Czech Radio, which has prepared a series of programmes featuring all archive material from Semafor’s 60-year-long history.