Writer: Daniel Majiling (based on Irving Welsh)
Director: Michal Vajdička
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
It’s always interesting to see how other nations interpret British writing, especially when the play is particularly representative of our home nation. Czech theatre company Dejvické Theatre has turned its hand to an adaptation of an Irving Welsh short story from his collection, The Acid House, which was premiered in 2012 and now comes to the 20th Made in Prague Festival showing at the Greenwood Theatre.
The play is set on one Sunday in a run-down bar / tea cabin in Edinburgh managed by landlord Bob who also runs the associated football team made up of regulars from the pub. Recently released from prison Gary is eager to know, and attack, whoever sent him a subscription to gay porn while in jail and had an affair with his wife Marge. Meanwhile, Bob’s son Boeb, hardman Larry and doting father Johnny are being messed around by their various women, and a mysterious neighbour arrives covered in excrement from his exploding bathroom.
A Blockage in the System was described as ‘the most vulgar play in Dejvické Theatre’s history’, a reaction to Welsh’s liberal use of swear words and talk about sex. In Britain, this is considerably less shocking, but on the whole. writer Daniel Majiling, the designers and cast have really captured a slightly hyper-real sense of Scottish working-class life. The set in particular works very nicely, a tiny box room with two exits filled with grubby pub paraphernalia including an arcade machine and blood splattered walls that have a grim Portacabin feel.
Yet Majiling’s script is a more of a mixed bag as it attempts to tell multiple, somewhat conflicted, stories that swing the tone uneasily from comedy to violence in a way that sometimes undermines the character’s intentions. Of the various plots best among them is Gary’s story, played with considerable menace by Hynek Čermák, as a man trying to re-establish his authority in the group and while unable to fulfil a sexual function with his wife channels his rage to extreme violence.
It seems that no Czech play is allowed to be under three hours because Majiling stuffs the script with secondary stories that are less effective and at times quite distracting. It’s not clear what overall message A Blockage in the System is trying to convey and as characters move in and out of the action with varying success that central thread becomes even more confused.
Initially, there is considerable comment on the nature of working-class masculinity as the regulars strut around the pub, down pints and sit with legs spread wide, so when two seemingly middle-class university lecturers arrive the contrast of their “debate and discuss” approach sits well against the physical intimidation of the other men.
But about 45 minutes into the show things start to go awry as Evelyn (Boeb’s girlfriend) is introduced as a farcically comic character, and considerably overplayed by Lenka Krobotová. Likewise, Johnny’s unfaithful wife also appears played by Klára Melíšková, who totters and slurs her way through the scenes, which seems at odds with the more serious and, unfortunately, more realistic story of the men.
While A Blockage in the System is still recognisably Welsh, it feels like some of the purpose of the original story – to gently mock the hierarchies of working-class life and its focus on beer and football – get a little lost in the wider mass of information that is largely played for comic effect. This story is at its best in the moments that are pure drama, walking the line between humour and danger, but three hours is a long time to fill and it may just be quicker to read the book.
Reviewed on 6 November 2016 | Image: Hynek Glos