first_imgThe Garden Party by Vaclav Havel BT EARLY Tuesday 21 –Saturday 25 October Written in an unstable political climate by the now-President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, The Garden Party is a play written by a young man with ferocious talent. Director Tom Gatti’s production is both entertaining and timely, getting electric performances from the cast and making the most of the play’s rich symbolism. In our age of corporate officespeak, where one thinks outside the box, empowers the consumer and squares the circle, the prescience of The Garden Party (written in 1963) makes for a great hour and a half at the BT. We see young Hugo Plantek (Beau Hopkins), solitaire chess aficionado, being sent off by his bourgeois parents to the titular garden party of the Liquidation Office. Once there, he takes naturally to the buzzwords and newspeak of central government, and talks his way to the top, over the heads of charismatic smooth-talker Maxy Falk (played by the director) and the President of the Inauguration Office, who ends up half-naked crouching down looking up at the exultant Hugo on his side of the desk. Written around the time that Beckett’s best work was behind him, and Stoppard’s best lay ahead, Havel’s play belongs to the continental Absurdist tradition. Unlike some modern productions of the best of that tradition, Gatti’s production never flags under the potential tedium of constant wordplay. This is very much a play about words, about the power that command over words can have in fuelling a passage to further power, and of the emptiness of words used without substance, but the play is never too clever for its own good. Nonsense phrases are delivered with such terrific conviction (above all by the mesmerising Falk), that we only realise the ludicrousness of such phrases as “catch a rabbit and you have it” and “without the warp, you will never bury the wolf” a couple of beats after we take them in. From the folksy psuedo-wisdom of Hugo’s self-affirmingly middle-class parents to Hugo’s later brilliant engineering of the Liquidation of the Inauguration Office, words exercise a strong hold over all characters, even though they may well be utterly meaningless. The play never loses “the human touch” (in the phraseology of Maxy Falk) for all its witty dialogues, and its presentation of the play’s interpersonal relationships are involving and even warm. We witness love blossom, like the proverbial moss, between two bureaucrats before their dedication to their task gets the better of them. And we wish the best for Hugo as he falls into a completely different world, one which he blags his way to the top of, before the play reaches its almost inevitable conclusion. Forty years on, The Garden Party has not suffered from the passage of time; rather it is reinvented through its evocation of New Labour and contemporary managerial nonsense. Though we are a considerable distance from Communist Czechoslovakia (two concepts which are both seemingly long gone), the power of buzzwords and arbitrary institutional logic still hold sway over the modern world. Gatti, his cast and crew have brought the criminally over-looked work of Havel to Oxford, in a production that speaks clearly to us while faithful to Havel’s original concerns.ARCHIVE: 1st Week MT2003last_img read more