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BRITISH THEATRE DIRECTOR LEADS SLOVAK ENSEMBLE IN AMERICAN PLAY

Language barrier bridged by emotions

A MAN sits in a hotel bar and tells you, a complete stranger, his life story. Nothing extraordinary: He has a wife and three kids, works as a manager, and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In real life, one would probably walk away, but this is theatre. As you continue listening, the monologue becomes a confession to a chilling crime.
Watching Slovak actor Matej Landl rehearse with British director Jan-Willem van den Bosch, you become aware of the many layers a play can have and see how these layers are revealed by the actor's performance. The work, written by the American Neil LaBute and bizarrely titled bash: latterday plays, is actually a set of three plays about violent and highly disturbed individuals.
This is not the first time that Slovak actors have staged a play with the Dutch-born British director. In February 2002 van den Bosch directed Patrick Marber's Closer for the Košice State Theatre. This production won the Slovak theatre award Dosky for best production and best set. Matej Landl was voted best male character and Alena Ďuránová chosen best newcomer.


BRITISH director Jan-Willem van den Bosch is directing bash: latterday plays in Slovak.
photo: Saša Petrášová

A MAN sits in a hotel bar and tells you, a complete stranger, his life story. Nothing extraordinary: He has a wife and three kids, works as a manager, and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In real life, one would probably walk away, but this is theatre. As you continue listening, the monologue becomes a confession to a chilling crime.

Watching Slovak actor Matej Landl rehearse with British director Jan-Willem van den Bosch, you become aware of the many layers a play can have and see how these layers are revealed by the actor's performance. The work, written by the American Neil LaBute and bizarrely titled bash: latterday plays, is actually a set of three plays about violent and highly disturbed individuals.

This is not the first time that Slovak actors have staged a play with the Dutch-born British director. In February 2002 van den Bosch directed Patrick Marber's Closer for the Košice State Theatre. This production won the Slovak theatre award Dosky for best production and best set. Matej Landl was voted best male character and Alena Ďuránová chosen best newcomer.

"I was just lucky with the actors and with Vlado Čáp [the set designer]. [Getting the award] was a big compliment but I had a nice time anyway, with or without the prize," says van den Bosch.

The unusual combination of Slovak actors and a British director came about thanks to the enthusiasm of the organisation Metamorfózy (Metamorphoses) and the financial help of the British Council. The aim is to see how a foreign director can enrich the theatre scene in another country.

In the beginning, van den Bosch, who does not speak any Slovak, was worried how the communication with the actors would work. But with the help of an interpreter - and a lot of body language - both the director and the actors got used to switching between German, English, and Slovak. For van den Bosch, there is also a lot of intuition involved, as he watches his actors perform in Slovak.


THE ACTORS and director communicate using three languages and their emotions.
photo: Saša Petrášová

"I find it easier not to know [any Slovak at all], because otherwise I would be frustrated that I didn't know enough. I know what they say, because I've got the English script, and I know by their emotions what they're saying. Sometimes I know that they're saying too much, because I see them doing something that is not in the text," says van den Bosch.

He says that most of the time he does not concentrate on what the character is like but rather tries to find and point out what he is hiding.

"It's a great exercise in directing emotions, and I think that if the emotions are right, then the text is right as well. At least, that's what I hope."

Van den Bosch graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and in the UK and Germany he worked with acclaimed directors such as Carlos Medina, Jonathan Kent, and Kathryn Hunter. His latest experiences in Slovakia have allowed him to compare the differences of theatre traditions in various countries.

"I think here [in Slovakia] actors are more based on Stanislavsky [an acting technique by which an actor strives to empathise with the character being portrayed so as to give the most realistic interpretation possible - ed. note] and sometimes they are emotionally extravagant. Whereas in Britain, actors are much smaller, they do less. And the Netherlands is visually based; there's not a great tradition with regard to text, compared to England," says van den Bosch.

For his new production in Bratislava, he has cast Landl and Ďuránová again, and picked up two new actors - Anka Šišková from the Astorka Theatre and Ľuboš Kostolný, a student at the Academy of Dramatic Arts. Kostolný was recommended by dramaturge Martina Vannayová and he chose Šišková after he saw her in a play.

Van den Bosch's staging of bash: latterday plays, which will premiere on April 25 and 26 at the Astorka Theatre, will probably receive a lot of media attention because of its controversial content and because of the innovative approach he chose. The performance includes a multimedia projection, an unusual technique for a Slovak production, which will connect the individual monologues.

"It went well [with Closer] and in a sense, I wanted to come back to see if that was just luck or if I could actually do it again."

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