Back Then in Bratislava

Slovak Chamber Theatre Martin, 2016
Author: Žo Langerová, Peter Pavlac
Directed by Patrik Lančarič

about the production

The autobiography by Žo (Žofia) Langerová Back Then in Bratislava, an intellectual with bourgeois and Jewish origin, who, together with her husband Oskar Langer, the indomitable faithful communist, first agreed with the ideas of socialism eventually to experience a cruel awakening, has become the 2007 Book of the Year. The paradox and, at the same time, the sad reality is that the book came out in Slovak translation 28 years after it was published in London (1979). Together with the novel by Ján Rozner Seven Days to Funeral (with similar fate of publication and eponymously presented at the Slovak Chamber Theatre in Martin in dramatization by Peter Pavlac, 2012) is among the key autobiographies in Slovak literature of the 20th century.

Back Then in Bratislava is not only a witness of time, but also a remarkably well written piece with sober and mature perspective of a woman who tells the story of her life with critical distance and great literary talent. The book as well as the dramatization by Peter Pavlac capture the prewar years in Bratislava and the later dramatic 1950s and 1960s in the Communist Czechoslovakia. The creative tandem Peter Pavlac and Patrik Lančarič have decided after the première of the Pavlac dramatization in 2013 on the radio, to bring to stage the story of the powerful woman who, despite the difficult and tragic moments in her life, was able to achieve an utterly sober perspective on the time she lived.

The Langers escaped Nazi purges to the US. Oscar Langer pressed the family to return home after the war. The production becomes a deterrent memento of the era when the fabricated trials were held with Communists that were deemed unsuitable for the Stalinist régime. Death or life sentence was to be a threat and deterrence leading to unconditional obedience. Oskar Langer was imprisoned in 1951: his Jewish origin and contacts abroad (given that together with Žo he lived in the US for a few years) made him a suspect. Oskar was accused in the trial with Rudolf Slánský and, unlike the many who were executed, he was sentenced to 22 years. Since his imprisonment Žo Langerová and their two daughters underwent an arduous journey struggling for mere survival, pride and dignity. The incredible power and life wisdom of a strong woman, different challenges and falls she had to overcome, her growing sturdier and her determination to carry on is played in the Martin production by Jana Oľhová, yet not with trauma, but with her own critical distance.

Even though a number of characters appear in the production – hence more actors, the piece is actually a monodrama and an acting solo. The means that Jana Oľhová chooses to portray the internal transformation of Žo Langerová seems to come out directly and genuinely from herself. In the three-hour long play, she is always on stage and the amount of text which she doesn’t recite but performs evidences the unique talent of the actress. The authors give the piece a documentary dimension through archival film footage of the show trials of the 1950s, as well as the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Žo Langerová’s life story should not be seen merely as a personal tragedy set in the past century. The production’s message about the consequences of the forced promotion of ideology goes beyond that past era, and becomes an appeal to the present day that might not be distant from what had once been here.
Dáša Čiripová

 “What is in the book merely in between the lines, acquires here concrete contours in questions and themes they address and the means of how they respond to each other. Langerová is not a hero per se. It is admirable what she managed to face with the massive determination. We see her strengths and weaknesses, hard-headedness, naiveté, expectations, a sense to protect her family. Her heroism lays in her mental strength and ultimately in the unending, though never expressed hope – which is particularly what the authors managed to pass to the audience.”
Dária F. Fehérová, kød 10/9, pp 9–13

“The work by Langerová was dramatized by the dramaturge and playwright Peter Pavlac, who turn the diary-like autobiographic book into a life testimony of a single woman not merely about the era bearing the Communist aftertaste, but also about an effort to protect her family, free her husband and fight for the truth. Pavlac has most appropriately turned the text into the conversation between Žo and her daughters through which the main character re- calls the difficult times and her relationship with her husband.”
Katarína Cvečková, Pravda, 12. 11. 2015



directed by Patrik Lančarič
dramatization: Peter Pavlac
translation of the novel: Ľudmila Ďurovičová
dramaturgy: Monika Michnová
set design: Jozef Ciller
costumes: Jana Kuttnerová
music: Vladislav Šarišský
music co-operation: Róbert Mankovecký
cutting of the projections: Mário Herman
characters and cast: Žo: Jana Oľhová, Táňa: Zuzana Rohoňová, Zuzka: Kamila Antalová, Ženy / Women: Eva Gašparová, Ľubomíra Krkošková, Nadežda Vladařová, Muži / Men: Michal Gazdík, Jaroslav Kysel, František Výrostko


Patrik Lančarič (1972), freelance theatre and film director, graduate of the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. From 2002 to 2004 he worked as artistic director at the State Theatre in Košice. He taught at the Academies of Performing Arts in Bratislava and Prague and made over 40 productions at home and abroad, having worked in a number of theatres across Europe. In Slovakia he works with state and independent theatres. He is director and screenwriter of awarded documentaries and fiction films, as well as radio plays. His film debut Conversation with the Enemy (2007) received Special Viewers’ Award in the French Cran – Gévrier and the Visegrad Film Award for the best debut in fiction film. His film Edge / 4 films about Marek Brezovský received the Main Prize at the Cinematik 2014 film festival as the best Slovak documentary. For the radio play Seven Days to Funeral Lančarič earned the Main Prize and the Best Director Award at the 2015 Radio Play Week (Radio Devín) and nomination for the Prix Europa 2015 Radio Fiction Award (Berlin).

Materials available

Video of the production: yes
Script of the production: SK

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