The Glory and Fall of King Otakar

Franz Grillparzer


Michal Hába

THE GLORY AND FALL OF KING OTAKAR “In his play of 1823, Grillparzer portrays Přemysl Otakar II as a proud and selfish individual whose fall is only a question of time, while he celebrates Rudolf of Habsburg as a peace-loving and moral unifier who will rule parts of Europe in a just way. The author extended this schema to the other characters – the Czechs are evil and treacherous, the Germans good. The play was considered by Czechs to be slanderous, and it was first shown in Brno (1827) and then in 1870 on the German stage of the Estates Theatre,” writes Jana Machalická. The play, with five thousand couplets, was discovered for contemporary theatre by Dušan David Pařízek, who successfully showed it last year at the Volkstheater in Vienna. Michal Hába is now showing it for the first time in the Czech Republic. How should one stage, in 2019, a play about the loss of the Czech king Přemysl Otakar II to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf I of Habsburg? Hába’s adaptation, cuts and updating take the historical theme on to the general level of a power struggle, with a number of parallels to today’s political situation. The direction oscillates between noisy pathos and alienation, with witty reminders of theatrical reality and all sorts of references. Grotesque, irony and parody as a principle of dealing wit the ambiguities of Grillparzer’s museum-piece text culminate in the final part, when instead of a conciliatory vision of history we see absolute chaos and decay.

Martin Pechlát in the role of Otakar once again finds himself in the right place, on the stage of the Divadlo Komedie, where he celebrated successes with the director Pařízek. His king of gold and iron dominates the stage, charging into everything at full tilt, showing off but at the same time doing himself down with self-deprecating and self-alienating irony. (…) The loudness of the music and the expressiveness of the actors, with some speeches almost shouted, capture the way in which the play is conceived directorially – the expression is fairground, ridiculous, farcical. The live beat music also brings considerable energy and dynamism (…) Hába’s concept is full of energy, playfulness and metaphor, and in terms of ideas it goes its own way.
– JANA MACHALICKÁ, Lidové noviny

The great historical figures are in this production funny little men in luxurious costumes, and everything that they do is maybe monstrous, but mainly delightfully illogical and exaggerated. The figures in themselves are hyperbolised, and with the further magnification their bizarre qualities are highlighted. If Otakar is a bloodthirsty authoritarian, then Hába through Martin Pechlát strengthens his ruthless attitude towards the landscape and nature – for example when he splits logs with a motor saw, because “when you cut wood, chips fly”.
Rudolf I. of Habsburg as played by Ivan Lupták is, on the contrary, a comic-book good guy, a prudent statesman who, when he changes into a grand robe, becomes the Superman of history. The princes and dukes, queens and lovers in their richly-coloured costumes behave on stage like puppets on “the clock of deranged patriots”.

The updating, which gives the play recognisably current political contexts (the unfurling of an inscription stating Who Owns, Rules) makes the production into political theatre and the general principle of power struggle into a real problem of today.
– IVA MIKULOVÁ, Divadelní noviny

MICHAL HÁBA (1986) Studied direction under Miroslav Krobot at DAMU theatre school in Prague, assisting directors Dušan David Pařízek and Alexander Riemenschneider. He undertook internships in the Berlin theatres Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and Maxim Gorki Theater. His work is connected above all with the group Lachende Bestien, where he acts as director, author, actor and producer. He is also involved in the travelling Horse and Motor Theatre, which has a social and community dimension. As a guest director he works in all kinds of theatres, from theatre for children and young people (the productions Huckleberry Finn, Cipísek, The Snow Queen) and auteur theatre (Opletal in the Na Cucky Theatre), interpretative drama (Black Water and The Miser at the Klicpera Theatre) and deconstructive theatre, which apart from Lachende Bestie’s productions (Ferdinand!, Sezuan, The Mission) include The Gambler, based on Dostoyevsky at the Goose on a String Theatre. In 2018 the group Lachende Bestien started to work with the Prague City Theatres, creating an auteur adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People for the Divadlo Komedie.

PRAGUE CITY THEATRES Since the theatres were founded in 1950 the acting company has appeared in several theatres in the environs of Wenceslas Square. One of the famous eras in the history of the Prague City Theatres came at the very beginning, with the legendary director Ota Ornest (1950–1972). The theatres showed a classic repertoire, plus plays from modern Western theatre. The repertoire also included comedies and original Czech work. Thanks to Ota Ornest and his colleagues, including Alfréd Radok, Miroslav Macháček, Václav Hudeček and Ladislav Vymětal, the Prague City Theatres had a good-quality acting company, which for several decades defined the nature of Czech acting (Rudolf Hrušínský, Lubomír Lipský, Václav Voska, Dana Medřická, Jaroslava Adamová, Jiřina Bohdalová and many others). The Prague City Theatres functioned as a single-company theatre until the Velvet Revolution, when the individual theatres became independent from each other. The theatres were not rejoined in terms of artistic programme and operations until 2006 under the leadership of Ondřej Zajíc and Petr Svojtka. The 2018/2019 season was the start of a new phase for the Prague City Theatres: Daniel Přibyl joined the leadership, together with Michal Dočekal as the artistic head. Dočekal’s award-winning, flagship production of Angels in America was on the programme of the Divadlo theatre festival last year.