Tom Stoppard's Rock'n'Roll "comes home" with Czech premiere

Zleva: Tom Stoppard, režisér Ivan Rajmont a herec David Prachař při premiéře, foto: ČTK

The red carpet was out on Thursday evening for the Czech premiere of the latest play by the renowned British playwright Tom Stoppard. He was born in Czechoslovakia, and the play, Rock'n'Roll, is partly set in Prague; it begins with the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 and ends with a Rolling Stones concert at the city's Strahov stadium in 1990.

The Plastic People of the Universe,  photo: CTK
The underground rock band The Plastic People of the Universe performed before the Czech premiere of Tom Stoppard's Rock'n'Roll at Prague's National Theatre. It was their arrest in 1976 that led to the Charter 77 dissident movement, which included future Czech president Vaclav Havel. Like Havel, the Plastic People are frequently mentioned in the play, which features their music alongside numerous western rock songs. Jiri Kabes is the band's violinist.

"I've actually been quite moved by the fact the audience were so enthusiastic and got into it so much...The way the second half reaches a climax - and I'm not just saying this because it ends with us on stage - really works well, I think."

Tom Stoppard with director Ivan Rajmont and actor David Prachar,  photo: CTK
The premiere of Rock'n'Roll was a hot ticket, with the play sold out some time in advance. Some of those lucky enough to get in gave me their impressions of the Czech version.

Man 1: "I liked separate talks and interviews and speeches, but I must say I didn't understand the whole thing - I just didn't. But I enjoyed it."

Do you think he captured the real dissident world at all?

"I don't think so (laughs)."

Rock'n'Roll,  photo: CTK
Somebody was saying that this play could have been written by a Czech person but finally it's been written by an Englishman.

"It's true that no good play has been written by a Czech author. But I think this is not a good play either. I think there are some good parts in it, there are some good speeches, there is some fun. But I just didn't understand it."

Man 2: "I did like it. I liked it because the national theatre is a special place, the Plastics are a special group and just being here is a perfect feeling. The play is a good play and I liked the actors, the text and the music - I loved it. And I was happy to see how the audience reacted."

Rock'n'Roll,  photo: CTK
Sir Tom Stoppard himself joined the cast on stage at the end of Rock'n'Roll, to huge applause. He was born in the Czech town of Zlin but left at the age of two, and speaks no Czech. But that didn't prevent the world famous playwright from enjoying the Czech-language premiere.

"I was very excited to be coming here at all and I was very excited by the production. The whole thing has been a real memorable evening for me personally and I'm very pleased."

Sir Tom Stoppard,  photo: CTK
What about the audience reaction - did they laugh in different parts, at different moments?

"The audience reaction was fascinating, because they did react differently in different parts - they laughed at things which were special to the Czech experience. I found that the most fascinating thing about the evening for me, though frankly I enjoyed the whole thing."

Tom Stoppard said when the Plastic People of the Universe appeared on stage at the end of the Czech version of Rock'n'Roll it was one of the greatest moments of his career.