The 18th Prague Fringe Festival (24th May-1st June) has arrived and former Prague Youth Theatre student Megan Meunier is back to review this year’s programme. Here is Megan’s account of the sixth day…
On day six, I have a packed day with about 15 minutes between each show. I start with Toby Belch (Is Unwell) at Misenska. You probably know Toby Belch as the drunk uncle of Olivia in Twelfth Night who tricks Malvolio into looking like an idiot in front of her. The piece is meta, at times we are confronted by Olivia’s drunken uncle, at times it’s clearly the actor, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. It’s a wonderful production but I’m not sure Misenska works well in the round because the lights in the center of the room are bright and at eye level. Every time the character of Toby Belch moves in front of the lights I get bright distracting yellow light in my eyes. Beyond that, the show is captivating. If Shakespeare portrays humanity’s flaws and emotions through his heros, John Knowles responds by portraying us in the side characters and sketches. Not everyone leads an exciting hero’s journey, some people are destined to be found wanting with unmet needs, feeling like a unlovable sketch of a person. This isn’t just about Shakespeare, and it’s not just about acting, it’s about the contradiction that lies in being needed and simultaneously forgotten. We need Toby Belch, for a bit of a laugh and to stretch a show out so it gets an interval, but at the end of the day, who remembers him? A must see.
The show ends ten minutes early, so I can stroll leisurely up to Beseda to see On Top. The performance is entertaining enough for the most part. Girls walk across a catwalk, clearly responding to society’s demands for beauty. They pose, exercise, take selfies and voraciously devour lettuce. It’s a general critique of an industry that doesn’t seem to add anything new. It gets confusing near the end, there are a lot of elements I couldn’t quite make sense of. I didn’t feel like I needed to know what each element signified to make sense of the societal critique though. I was mostly underwhelmed by On Top. I don’t believe it is enough to just highlight things society pressures women to do and suggest that it’s bad. I spent the show waiting for a moment where it would push a bit further into the controversy. Dieting, exercising, social media oversaturation are all complex subjects – and the show makes no specific statement on any of those. I’m weary of art that tackles so many subjects at once, because it often winds up making many shallow points rather than digging deep into one and uncovering controversy. I hope to see the performers dig deeper in their next production.
After the show, I have a short walk up to Golden Key to see Running to Saint Sebastian. It’s the story of a gay man, somehow now in charge of a mostly empty church now reminiscing on his childhood and teenage years. We are told about his crush, Chris Homestead and the first time Chris was hurt in front of our narrator, how human he seemed. When someone grows up bullied, in a world where ‘spastic’ and ‘faggot’ are synonyms, one just as awful as the other, one grows to associate pain with the core of their humanity. It’s no wonder the narrator finds comfort in seeing mutilated beautiful men, falling in love with their vulnerable humanity as well as their chiseled bodies. John Arthur Sweet doesn’t waste a word, each image is perfectly crafted to get his story across and his voice wouldn’t be out of place in a bedtime audiobook. The story couldn’t be better placed than in the cellar of Golden Key, as well, because throughout the tale, we are supposedly sitting in the cellar of the church building – which just adds to the immersion of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
As the sky darkened, I made my way to see Where Are You Really From? In Museum of Alchemists. It’s a performance that mixes video, dance and physical theatre to convey the complex identity that belongs to the Czech-Vietnamese. It begins with two girls, crawling out of a bag where they’ve been confined with ramen, fans, shoes and a waving cat. Asian stereotypes, most of which, to my knowledge aren’t even Vietnamese. They have been literally placed in a box. There are uncomfortably racist jokes and sweet letters home, trying to describe what it’s like to be in the country everyone assigns you too and yet be recognised by the natives as “a Vietnamese from overseas”. I found it to be personally affecting, as I haven’t had the most standard national identity, but the complication of race hasn’t affected me in the same way so some notions were new. They explore the contradiction of parents choosing to give them a more liberal education, and being perhaps upset when it results in more liberal choices. When I arrived the show was sold out, and I understand why. If it isn’t already sold out for the week, do get a ticket.
The final show of the evening was J’n’R in Kampa. A story loosely based on the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, a man attempts to woo a woman with his words at an airport at 4am. The piece didn’t work for me. I found the guy too sympathetic to empathise with the amount of annoyance shown by the woman towards him. She belittles and critiques every attempt he makes to talk to her, and doesn’t even seem to enjoy it. I never understood why she didn’t just walk away, or even insist that he leave. Instead she patronizingly takes down his microaggressions, never offering any actual help. As a socially awkward person myself, I felt scared of her and her scathing irritation at everything he said, no matter how sweet. I understand that it is an exploration of the way communications are changing between men and women but this just surprises me further. The onus of carrying the conversation is constantly placed on the man, they spend ten minutes debating how he could potentially start a conversation. I was amazed that it was never suggested that she could contribute to a friendly conversation. She’s clearly not walking away, and it’s been ten minutes, so I can only assume that she likes talking to him but she is so gratingly rude. I think, however that I might be alone in my thoughts as I heard many people praising it as I left. I just didn’t feel the chemistry.
Prague Fringe Festival runs until the 1st June. Check out the the full programme, here.