Rendezvous in Bratislava
Battersea Arts Centre
Reviewed – 13th November 2018
“a living archive that celebrates not only the life of a remarkable man but those who loved him as well”
Miriam Sherwood never got to meet her grandfather, and yet, in spite of this, she has managed to write a cabaret with him. Rendezvous in Bratislava chronicles the life of Jan ‘Laco’ Kalina, a prolific writer of cabarets and jokes, of plays and no less than five autobiographies. But, sifting through her grandfather’s writings and photographs, Sherwood has found a way of telling her grandfather’s story and her own. What emerges is a cabaret, a personal history and a living archive that celebrates not only the life of a remarkable man but those who loved him as well.
Set in a cosy living room, complete with period furniture and a piano, Rendezvous in Bratislava, is extraordinarily intimate. As the audience sits at cabaret tables, the boundaries between them and stage are blurred from the start. We are invited in as guests on Sherwood’s journey. Perhaps because we are so involved, we are able to see the details of Laco’s life, and the way which details do not necessarily have to add up because life, for better and for worse, can be messy.
The narrative that unfolds is both personal and political. Born in 1913, in Czechoslovakia, Laco’s life traces turbulent times as he escaped persecution during the Nazi occupation only to be later deemed a threat by the ensuing communist regime. But Laco’s work seems to have been devoted to laughter, and the show is peppered with his dark jokes translated from Slovakian by Sherwood.
Accompanying this is some brilliant original music, composed and performed by Thom Andrewes and Will Gardner who capture the playfulness of cabaret. From radio transmissions and cassette recordings to live renditions, the songs and performances are weaved into the story through an innovative medley of mediums. There are a few numbers which combine folk tunes and classical cabaret with a modern twist. With the help of a band of top musicians (František Holčík, Martin Jeriga and Maria Rehakova), the songs of Rendezvous in Bratislava bring to life a period of cabaret which nurtured laughter and entertainment in the darkest of times.
At the core of this piece is Miriam Sherwood’s sensitive storytelling. There is an honest fascination with her grandfather that marks each moment. As she reads extracts of Laco’s work, it is as if her voice is in conversation with his. There are several layers of very careful translation going on; from Slovak to English, from text to stage and from the personal to the performative. It is in this dialogue and these movements of translation that the real drama resides.
Rendezvous in Bratislava is a unique and unusual piece of theatre, the only one that I have seen that incorporates music and dance with readings from extracts and even a slideshow. It is funny, warm and heart-wrenching. “The success of a cabaret revue,” writes Laco, “depends on whether we are able to make a programme of artistic and ideological impact from a mosaic of small moments”. Rendezvous in Bratislava indeed does just that, it is a mosaic of some beautiful and strange, small moments.
Reviewed by Tatjana Damjanovic
Photography by Lara Taylor
Rendezvous in Bratislava
Battersea Arts Centre until 24th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: