Hugo Pludek comes from a middle class Czech family, and spends all his time playing chess against himself. His parents, dismayed by his behaviour, attempt to find him a career by introducing him to the influential Mr Kalabis, who is attending a garden party held by the Liquidation Office. Hugo soon finds himself sucked into an absurd bureaucratic world where everyone talks but no-one says anything, and ends up playing chess against himself again, but this time at a governmental level. Of course, when you’re playing yourself, when you win, you also lose…
Reviewed by J.D.R. for The Croydon Advertiser
British Premiere of Czech Satire
Sunday evening saw the British premiere of “The Garden Party” a significant a biting political satire by the Czech dramatist Vaclav Havel, whose play was seen at Coulsdon in Vera Blackwell’s English translation. The play, first produced in Czechoslovakia in 1963, has been presented with tremendous success in every European country except England and (for obvious reasons) the USSR. Nova, with the support of Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, presented us with the first and (for the present) only planned performance in this country. It was an ambitious venture that successfully captured the very precise style of the comedy. The garden party of the title is being held by the Liquidation Office for its staff, inaugurated as are all things by the Inauguration Bureau. Upon the scene comes the young hero, Hugo, an overgrown schoolboy innocent of the ways of bureaucracy, but a master at the art of playing chess with himself. This art has taught him to regard a situation from both sides and to manoeuvre from either as required. Hugo strives to understand the absurd bureaucracy. At first he tries to use common sense, but his suggestions are greeted with horror. How could he question the decisions of the Organising Committee? Anyway actual relative facts depend not on reality but on committee statements. However Hugo soon absorbs the principles of the system and is able to take the bureaucracy to its logical absurd conclusion. He inaugurates the liquidation of the Inauguration Bureau and liquidates the Liquidation Office. From the debris, he builds a Central Commission for Inauguration and Liquidation with himself as Director. Another Czech hero, Schweik went unscathed through life with his direct and simple honesty, while the blind slaves of the system toppled. Hugo is equally direct and simple. Schweik was preserved by his humanity, whereas Hugo’s world has no place left for human feelings. Characters may speak of sharing opinions and emotions, but their opinions are dialectic jargon and even a description of an act of love-making is totally impersonal. In such a dehumanised society, the preserving force for Hugo can only be the system and the simple rational logic he can apply to it, so that it is the system which destroys the system. But it would be dangerous to sit back and assume that this satire applies only to Communist systematisation. Nova emphasised its nearness to us all with a nicely pointed impression of our ex-Premier, Harold Wilson, giving one of his reassuring talks to the nation. Problems of procedure, such as who should correctly inaugurate the liquidating of the Liquidation Office are not without their counterparts in British industry and government. All this came over well, but other aspects remained obscure. I failed to grasp the full significance of the middle-class father, and the bourgeois intellectual son eloping with the maid. With the plays of Ionescu, David Campton and N.F. Simpson, “The Garden Party” belongs to the Theatre of the Absurd which demonstrates the relative nature of Truth by distorting clichés.