Masaryk university of brno faculty of education

Peter Shaffer in the context of the Czech theatre

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1.3. Peter Shaffer in the context of the Czech theatre

Peter Shaffer has not only been a prominent figure on the British and American stage but several of his plays has also been translated into Czech language and adapted for the Czech theatres. Undoubtedly, the most publicly favoured is Amadeus which might be caused by two relevant aspects that dominate.

First of all, the Milos Forman’s film adaptation premiered in 1985 significantly contributed to the success of the play on stage and second, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself is domesticated with the Czech cultural environment, mainly due to his personal visits to both Prague and Brno where he, as an eleven-year-old boy, performed in Reduta Theatre Brno.

Amadeus was first staged in the Czech theatres in 1982, in the translation by Martin Hilský, and was enthusiastically applauded by the audience (Divadelní ústav). It was three years after its premiere in London where it won Evening Standard Award for Best Play. Brand new adaptation of the play can be seen in Husa na Provazku Theatre in Brno.

If Amadeus has been noticed by the Czech public with excitement it seems to be of much less attraction with Shaffer’s earlier play The Royal Hunt of the Sun, which was performed in London National Theatre over decades and represented a breakthrough in British postmodern theatre. Therefore, it appears surprising that there were at all three adaptations of the play since its premiere in The State Theatre in Brno in 1967 in the translation by Jiri Mucha.

According to the critic and editor of Literarni Noviny Vladimir Hulec who reviewed the last adaptation in Vinohradske Theatre in 1999, the play arrangement was burdened with heaviness and appeared too descriptive and fossilized (Hulec). From my point of view the failure of having the play withdrawn from the stage may lie in unwillingness to disengage from the Shaffer’s concept of ‘total theatre’ and stubborn insistence on theatrical ideas valid in the sixties of the twentieth century.

Among other Shaffer’s plays which have had appreciable position on the Czech theatre stage ranks a psychological drama Equues, which was also adapted for Mestske Divadlo Brno in 2008 in translation of Ivo T. Havlu. The comeback of this play was introduced in London West End in 2007 after over thirty years, and promised to be one of the hottest tickets of that season. The outstanding rating of the play in cultural reviews in London may have had a significant impact on its revival in the Czech theatres the following year. On the other hand, Shaffer’s crucial masterpiece Five Finger Exercise, which was the stepping stone into his professional career, has not been translated into Czech even though it would deserve more attention.

Among other plays translated into Czech language and performed on the Czech stages belong Black Comedy, successfully staged since 1968, The Public Eye, with its last adaptation in 2009 or Lettice and Lovage, a comedy first introduced in 1990. Certainly, the number of Shaffer’s adaptations for the Czech theatres is dependable on the commercial success in their mother country as well as the dramatists’ ‘skill and will’ to ‘coat’ the plays into a new form according to the principles of modern theatre of the twenty-first century.

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