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Avant-garde theatre marks WWI centenary in Prague

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Avant-garde theatre marks WWI centenary in Prague

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Leading American avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson is commemorating the first World War’s centenary in his new stage production ‘1914’ at Prague’s National Theatre.

Wilson depicts an absurd world laced with tragedy, irony and black humour, where war is a farce played out to a disturbingly cheerful soundtrack.

“I think that the events of 1914 are in 2014 – just read the paper today, read the front page, read the headlines, listen to the headline news on television. So sure, it’s probably, you know… in 3014 we’ll still be looking at the same story,” says Robert Wilson.

The play is inspired by the Czech novel ‘The Good Soldier Švejk’ by Jaroslav Hašek and Karl Kraus’ satirical tragedy ‘The Last Days of Mankind’, both written just after World War One.

Wilson makes no attempt at telling a story. Using twin narrators, the Optimist and the Pessimist, acting as commentators, ‘1914’ plays out like a theatrical poem, tracing the destructive arc of war through a series of vignettes. A recruiting station, an officers’ club and a military hospital provide snapshots of war’s brutalising and dehumanising effects.

“To me, everything is music,” says Wilson. “Whether it’s someone speaking – the pitch of the voice in speaking – whether they are not speaking, you’re still hearing something, it’s all part of a soundscape, it’s all musical.”

‘1914’ inaugurates a series of theatrical events entitled ‘Conflict Zones’ organised by the Union of Theatres of Europe. Founded 30 years ago, the union is currently headed by Ilan Ronen, director of the National Theatre of Israel.

“Any conflict zone is a danger, and we as artists can create a lot of bridges in between those areas and help to prevent the next explosion. It can happen every day,” says Ronen.

‘1914’ by Robert Wilson runs at Prague’s National Theatre until December.

Conflict Zones shows are scheduled in cities across Europe, including Vienna, Athens, Rome and Sofia over the coming months to mark the centenary of the First World War.

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