The Presidents

Werner Schwab


Kamila Polívková

THE PRESIDENTS When Werner Schwab sent The Presidents to the Vienna Burgtheater in 1988, the theatre declared it unperformable. Nevertheless, in spring 1994 its premiere took place there, and since then the play has won numerous awards and has become one of the most frequently-performed Austrian plays. This first production of the text, directed by Peter Wittenberg, played a year later at the Divadlo theatre festival in Pilsen. Now this darkly humorous musing on human futility and unfulfilled lives is back, and once again provides a great acting opportunity for three actresses (Marie Ludvíková, Monika Maláčová, Kamila Valůšková). Schwab’s faecal grotesque, mixing high and low, bigotry and degeneracy, blood and excrement, shows three women at the end of their work-weary lives. The only activity that they can now carry on with no limits is talking. “Essentially there’s nothing here to laugh at, not a single joke is told, there are no gags designed to get laughs. The women are not in the least laughable, they are in many ways disgusting, and provoke at most feelings of embarrassment or sympathy. And they speak in a language that in a less perfectly-balanced production could also provoke distaste. The laughter can thus be understood as joyful laughter at surprising discoveries, at things that have not before been heard, at unexpected – often absurd – contexts, at the discrepancy between the deathly seriousness with which the “presidents” act, and the smallness, banality and madness of their desires and illusions… And thus audiences perceive the play and its successful staging not as a “genre scene from life” but as a highly-stylised artistic reality, where much is from life, but nothing is as in life,” the translator Josef Balvín wrote about the play.

Anna Chrtková’s costumes are deserving of praise, as is Antonín Šilar’s underlighting of the almost empty stage. The light design provides an almost ghostly atmosphere. In terms of acting, the evening is crowned by Marie Ludvíková as the primitive lard-merchant Erna. She is precise in the simplicity of her gestures, but also in her intonation. Kamila Valůšková is also remarkable as the toilet-cleaning saviour Marjánka, while the obscene Greta, as played by Monika Maláčová, here bets mainly on a low neckline and bulging breasts. This kitchen table story with no way out, featuring three simple-minded human animals talking vulgarly about noble things, does not in this production provoke disgust in the audience, but a strange mixture of melancholy, scepticism and sympathy.
– LUBOŠ MAREČEK, Lidové noviny
Brno’s HaDivadlo has shown now for several seasons that its dramaturgy is not a sequence of random PR ideas, but a tight and disciplined programme bridging the gap between the theatre and the problems of society. Last season was devoted to the issue of work, and as part of that the in its time scandalous play Presidents by the enfant terrible of Austrian theatre Werner Schwab. The author observes three commanders of the universe, women declining in both mind and body, caught in the pitiful reality of their deepening domestic misery. The creators of this production of a play now over thirty years old look at the degeneration of individuals who have lost contact with the world and easily fall prey to all sorts of ideologies. They also ask whether such people can be saved.

KAMILA POLÍVKOVÁ (1975) graduated in set design from JAMU theatre school. She worked with Theatre 7 and a Half, and in 2004, thanks to her work on the National Theatre’s project Hut, she started to work with Dušan D. Pařízek’s Divadlo Komedie. She was the company’s graphic designer and photographer, and directed the monologues Heroes Like Us, SAM, Horváth’s play Faith, Love, Hope. After the Divadlo Komedie closed, she, Jan Horák and Michal Pěchouček founded the Studio Hrdinů, where she has staged plays including Day of the Oprichnik, The Animal Kingdom, Sjón’s Skugga Baldura and Zábranský’s play The Actor and Carpenter Majer Talks About the State of his Homeland. As a director she also works with other theatres (National Theatre Brno, HaDivadlo, Prague City Theatres). She designs the costumes for Pařízek’s German-language productions at the Theater Bremen, Schauspielhaus Zürich, Deutsches Theater in Berlin and the Burgtheater and Volkstheater in Vienna.
HADIVADLO has built up, over the forty five years of its existence in the Czech theatre context, a name as an alternative theatre with a distinctive way of looking at the world and with its own style. Since the beginning it has profiled itself as a theatre of markedly auteur style, with a demanding dramaturgy and strong creative personalities. Since 2015 the company has been headed by Ivan Buraj.