Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Vinohrady Theatre

On this day in 1907, the majestic art-nouveau Municipal Theatre of Royal Vinohrady first opened its doors. The production was Jaroslav Vrchlický's play based on the life of Lady Godiva, the 11th century benefactress who supported the townsfolk against her husband's oppressive taxation by riding naked through the streets of Coventry.

And there's still a strong British flavour today in their largely Czech-language repertoire. After its centenary refurbishment two years ago, for instance, the theatre re-opened with every Praguer's favourite play about political corruption,  'Jistě, pane ministře' - no prizes for guessing what that means! In fact, one of the great ties between the two countries is a passion for satire.

Chief among the Czech satirists was Vinohrady resident Karel Čapek, who was responsible for some of the finest writing between the wars, and who was artistic director of this theatre in the 1920s. The monument to Karel and his brother Josef stands nearby, next to the Church of St Ludmila. Starting tomorrow, this blog will be telling the story of the talented Čapek brothers and their local, national and international legacy.

During the sixties, this attractive playhouse was renamed the Central Theatre of the Czechoslovak Army, and although it has reverted to its more appropriate title, simply The Vinohrady Theatre, battles are still being fought there, the most recent concerning Václav Havel's political satire, 'Leaving'. A dispute arose as to whether the lead role should go to the ex-president's second wife, the controversial actress Dagmar Havlová-Veškrnová. The National Theatre of Prague refused to stage the play with her in the role, so Havel turned to the Vinohrady Theatre, with which he had strong connexions. They were all ready to put it on when they too mysteriously pulled the plug, citing financial constraints. Surely it could not have been for that other reason, that Dagmar had once played the part of a topless vampire? - after all, the Vinohrady Theatre did set a precedent with Lady Godiva...


Leif Hagen said...

A magnificent theatre with a fascinating history! Nice snap!

Jilly said...

What a beautiful building and love the history. And the politics! Also delighted I now know three words in Czech!

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