EYEWITNESS Since 18 February 2021 the National Theatre has shown on its website the world premiere of a film by director Jiří Havelka and dramaturg Marta Ljubková Eyewitness. It deals with the postwar massacre that took place on the hill near Přerov known as Švédské šance, in which 265 Carpathian Germans, Hungarians and Slovaks were killed – most of them women and children. Czechoslovaks killed Czechoslovaks. The producers recorded on camera authentic eyewitness accounts of the horror in such a way that they are reminiscent of the environment in which we all live during the pandemic – talks on Skype and Zoom.
It is the night of 18 June 1945. The world war ended a month ago, and two transports meet at a Moravian station. The first contains Carpathian Germans, Hungarians and Slovaks who were displaced during the war to the Sudetenland, and who are now returning home to Slovakia. The second contains members of the 17th infantry regiment from Petržalka, former members of the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps under the command of Lieutenant Karol Pazúr. The meeting of these two groups, some of whose members knew each other, ends in a massacre. It started with Pazúr’s orders to “deal with the SS members”. The nearby village of Lověšice near Přerov and its inhabitants became a witness – dumb, but in many cases active. A further drama is the later investigation of the crime and the various eyewitness accounts and other documents that have been preserved.
“ The actors have period costumes and speak in official language with numerous archaic constructions and endings, but their witness accounts nevertheless give an immediate and authentic impression. It is as if we were connected in real time with the past via the monitor. The place from which the witnesses are speaking is from time to time filled with a sort of “universal” hum, in which concrete sounds, the screech of trains or shots can be indistinctly identified.
——MARIE RESLOVÁ, aktuálně.cz
“ If we leave aside – and this is very difficult – the details of the actual unforgivable deed, in the second layer we come across some interesting mini-stories. The soldiers who are trying to capitalise on the situation and who promise the survivors that they will “look after” their valuables. The harassed villagers, who have to dig a mass grave and watch the massacre. And above all the members of the local council, who pass the issue of possible guilt and the suspiciously smooth course of the incident between themselves like a hot potato.
——MIRKA SPÁČILOVÁ, idnes.cz
JIŘÍ HAVELKA (1980) A distinctive figure in Czech theatre, Jiří Havelka is a director, author and actor. He graduated in directing alternative and puppet theatre from the DAMU theatre school in 2002. From the beginning his theatre work has focused on collective improvisation as a method of creating auteur-style productions. His plays often straddle the border between drama, alternative, movement and art theatre. He was initially connected with Studio Ypsilon in Prague, but he went on to make use of his creative talent in further theatres, and has worked with the Theatre on the Balustrade, the Dejvice Theatre and the Vinohrady Theatre. He has also directed several international projects, including the Czech-German EXIT 89 and a concert show with Britain’s The Tiger Lillies Zde jsem člověkem! Here I am Human! for the Archa Theatre. Exceptionally he also stages dramatic texts, predominantly original and contemporary. At the Dejvice Theatre, for example, he adapted K.F. Tománek’s text into a comic-strip type western, Wanted Welzl (2011), followed by the auteur production The Murder of King Gonzago (2017). Other award-winning productions he has directed include George Meliès’ Last Trick (Drak, 2013), The Brass Band (VOSTO5 2013 – Divadelní noviny award), Correction (VerTeDance 2014 – Divadelní noviny award) and Elites (2017) at the Slovak National Theatre. He also works with the National Theatre in Prague – Colonel Švec (2018). He has headed the Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre at DAMU. Recently his activity has been closely connected to his “home” company Vosto5, of which he is a member. The group has for many years provided Czech theatre with injections of pure improvisation, caricature and mystification, above all on Czech national themes. The company’s most successful production in recent years has been Havelka’s original play The Fellowship of the Owners (2017).
NATIONAL THEATRE – DRAMA SECTION The drama section works in three architecturally-different theatres. The largest one is a national emblem, a symbol of Czech culture and the independence of the nation, with dramaturgy that follows the path of the classics of the Czech and international repertoire. The classicist building of the Estates Theatre, meanwhile, shows both classic and contemporary works, while the New Stage, which is the most progressive of them, serves as a place for auteur projects and Czech premieres. The theatre works with representatives of the middle and young generation, thus giving rise to daring productions, radical interpretations of the classics and novel renditions of contemporary plays. The Prague National Theatre’s drama section shows seven or eight drama premieres a year, but a good deal of its activity also consists of accompanying activities and educational programmes. The current management of the drama section, headed by Daniel Špinar, tries to make the National Theatre a thriving and open institution. Its activities also include the Prague Crossroads festival.