Things and events, new in the fact, seem to be unacceptable to many of us. Just let us recall the shocking stage productions by Alfred Radok, Otomar Krejča, Jan Kačer or Ivan Rajtmont, which hit us at the time of their introduction. Today, we do not understand the negative reactions of those times, we laugh at them, as the initially „shocking” acting or visual language, or the approach to the stage set became generally acceptable and comprehensible. Nevertheless, one day, somebody else will come, who will juggle the accepted procedures and values again. Petr Lébl is such a director, from this theatre season, the artistic director of the Theatre on the Balustrade in Prague, and such is his latest premiere of The Seagull by A P. Chekhov.
Lébl did not change his artistic signature, nevertheless freed it from symbols, which enabled almost any explanations, and he became more disciplined in both, visual and thematic point s of view. Seagull, approached by Lébl, is beyond almost all previous conventions of presenting Chekhov in our country. The black-and-white characters move on, pass by and cross the stage, sometimes they are persons, sometimes they are stage props, sometimes they are laughable, sometimes pitiful. They look like bugs, like Gregor's Samsas. (Note: Gregor Samsa, a character from Kafka's Metamorphosis.) And among them, Chekhov's text reels off here, once absurd and uncomprehensible, and at some other time pathetic or on the contrary, playful and naive in a childish way. It is a mockery of all psychologizing adaptation canons and at the same time, it is an image of the contemporary world: the world of Chekhov has been dead far a long time, the world of Kafka, in a fact still existing is just fading away… Every word, every reply, every dialogue of the stage production are the reflections of an emptiness of the world, in which even a death is not mythical.
Stage production approach by Lébl, is visually consistently black-and-white and as if the significance of colours was reversed. Where the adaptation tends towards death and destruction, Lébl uses more and more of white colour, until a moment, when almost all characters are dressed in the white. In addition to this, in the second half of the evening, almost entire stage is shrouded in white curtain, which is almost poetically moved by huge fans; the actors occasionally employ unexpected humour and the audience is not exposed to any expressionistic attacks. They can concentrate more on an atmosphere of the play and to perceive a coldness of death, which breathes from it. An important part of the performance is raw and difficult to grasp music by Filip Topol and David Skála, as well as stylized acting.
By this stage production, Petr Lébl created a cathedral, and there is nothing left, but to stare at it. Doubt can be planted only, whether the space of this cathedral is not tao cold or chilly after all, and whether Chekhov-style evil-eyed simplicity has not slipped away. However, maybe these are only the reviewer's conventional roots coming to the surface.
Vladimír Hulec, MLAIDÁ FRONTA DNES, 7th May 1994
directed by Petr Lébl
translation and script editing: Leoš Suchařípa
costumes: Kateřina Štefková
music: Filip Topol, David Skála
choreography: Antonín Hodek
assistant director: Daniel Hrbek
cast: Jorga Kotrbová, Radek Holub, Bořivoj Navrátil, Barbora Hrzánová, Jiří Ornest, Jana Dolanská, Magdalena Sidonová, Karel Dobrý, Leoš Suchařípa, Ján Hrušínský, Vladimír Marek