Show inspired by Havel’s Vaněk among likely highlights at 13th Prague Fringe

'Vaněk Unleashed', photo: archive of Prague Fringe Festival

Now in its 13th year, the Prague Fringe Festival brings dozens of productions from around the globe to the city for nine days of alternative drama, comedy, music, dance and more. Ahead of Friday’s opening of the colourful festival, which is centred in the historic Malá Strana district, I spoke to director Steve Gove – and began by asking him what the highlights of this year’s Fringe were likely to be.

“Well, where to start? We’ve got 42 different shows from all over the world coming and it’s almost impossible to say, this is going to be a highlight, or that’s going to be a highlight.

“What we recommend people do is to take a risk, jump in at the deep end, go to one of the theatres, buy a ticket and check out one of the shows – and then start your adventure at Fringe.

“It’s a crazy, crazy week, where you can see two or three or four shows a day and a whole bunch of different things: music, theatre, magic, comedy – a little bit of everything. It’s just very much like a slice of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.”

I’m sure there are many great shows, but if I put a gun to your head and said “what is the show that I can’t miss?”, what would that show be?

“OK. With a gun firmly against my head [laughs] I would say, check out a really exciting piece that’s come from Washington. It’s been created especially for the Prague Fringe Festival and it’s called Vaněk Unleashed.

“Fans of Václav Havel will know that Vaněk is his alter ego, and this particular musical theatre piece has been created specifically for the Fringe Festival.

'Vaněk Unleashed',  photo: archive of Prague Fringe Festival
“It’s under the banner The Václav Havel Project. This theatre company has two pieces, one being Havel’s Unveiling and the other being Vaněk Unleashed. It’s a very exciting sort of mini-season within the Fringe Festival Programme.”

Are there particular kinds of shows that go down well with the Prague audience?

“It varies from year to year, to be honest. It’s one of these funny things: Even we, the organisers, very often don’t know what’s going to be the hit of the Fringe – there’s so much on offer.

“Sometimes performances that haven’t perhaps struck us as being the most exciting or the most daring or the most adventurous are the ones that come up and become the favourite show.

“And that could be a comedy show, it could be a music show, it could be a theatre show. So without sounding entirely vague about everything [laughs], it is sometimes really difficult to put your finger on it.”

How familiar are you in advance with what’s coming? At a film festival, say, the programme director will have seen all the films. But how much do you know in advance?

“This is the thing: I travel around during the year to a number of fringes, including Edinburgh, of course, and the fringe festival in Adelaide.

“So I’ve seen a handful of the performances myself and my colleagues have seen some of the performances themselves… It’s a sort of mixture of, yes, we know a few shows and actually we know nothing about some of them as well.

'Ace of Space',  photo: archive of Prague Fringe Festival
“Some of them are brand new as well. We’ve got a couple of shows that have been created especially for the Fringe by young talented artists who’ve attended the Fringe in the past, either as volunteers or visitors.

“They’ve been inspired by the Fringe, by the venues, and then they’ve gone and spent a year or two working on a piece that fits that particular space.

“So some of the pieces are completely brand new. And I’m sure that some of them are going to be some of the most exciting parts of the festival.”