Above the Arts Theatre, London – until 8 October 2016
Guest reviewer: Laura Thomas
Set in Prague in 1950, and based on the true story of activist and writer Milada Horakova (Polly Attala), it tells of her struggles with the state, portrayed by Joseph (Jason Denyer). It is two years since the Russians seized power, five since they liberated Milada from her jail cell, facing a death sentence in the hands of the Nazis.
The communist regime is regarded as something as a joke by the intellectual community. The witty Petr (Jamie Coleman) is scathing when asked his view on a clichéd and doctrinaire play, written by Josef, starring his old friend Ludmila (Gabriella Gadsby). He does not believe that Ludmila values a comfortable prison to real liberty. The couple argue, and are overheard by Josef. Suddenly, the joke is not so funny.
The work examines the corruption caused by dogma in the hands of zealots, and the weakness of reason and intellect in the face of this beast. Much of Milada’s language is taken directly from her writing, juxtaposed against the strident propaganda of Josef.
Milada’ s humanity is seen through the eyes of her young daughter, Jana (Holly Donovan) and letters to and from her husband. Music by Jon Whitten, and played on violin by the talented Donovan, underscores much of the production. Blocking and Sound, dialogue, movement and Milada’s prose all combine in a whole, adding to the power of the piece.
As the jaws of fate close, so Horakova continues to rely on reason and love as hatred overcomes all that she holds dear. Samartzi directs with sensitivity and restraint, the piece is the more powerful for it. The movement carries much of the narrative, credit to Joanna Wenger. A wordless scene between mother and daughter is heart-rending. The stylised showdown with Josef is truly shocking.
Perhaps most disturbing was the journey of Ludmila. Gadsby gave a performance of subtle grace, as her path took her away from the light and to a dark inversion. She danced along the paving of good intentions with balletic grace, her simple movements a powerful narrative, that of a soul lost on the road. And then, with on last flourish, a killer twist.
A remarkably accomplished performance by a company of capable creatives, credit to all both on and off stage. No doubt the team will tighten the work even further as the run progresses. Some of the longer speeches, whilst beautiful, dragged a little. Josef was unremittingly bad from beginning to end, almost surreal in his conviction and tending to the melodramatic. Restraint and some vulnerability on his part might have made Ludmila’s journey more convincing. It is attractive to follow a strong and confident leader blindly, at least on some level. And thus darkness creeps into our hearts.
Set over sixty years ago, the play is a timely reminder about the corrosive power of rhetoric and the cost of the blind loyalty that it demands.
By Rebecca Morgan
Directed by Ria Samartzi
Original music by Jon Whitten
Playful Moon Theatre are excited to announce Conviction, a fictionalised account of the events leading up to and surrounding the show trial of Milada Horáková, at the Arts Theatre West End.
Prague, 1950. Two years since the Communist coup d’etat, Milada Horáková, activist, politician and mother is under surveillance by the secret police. First year law student Ludmila Brožová-Polednová is being seduced into the Party’s inner circle.
As the nation begins a modern-day witch hunt, their lives intertwine and converge towards zero. In a world where ideas can kill and the game is rigged, who will emerge victorious?
A tale of belonging, survival and divided loyalties.
Conviction will play at the Arts Theatre:
Monday 3rd October 7.30pm
Tuesday 4th October 7.30pm
Wednesday 5th October 7.30pm
Thursday 6th October 7.30pm
Friday 7th October 7.30pm
Saturday 8th October 3pm
Saturday 8th October 7.30pm
Tickets are £15 (£12.50 concession)
For more information and to purchase tickets please visit the Arts Theatre.
Milada: Polly Attala
Ludmila: Gabriella Gadsby
Petr/Viktor: Jamie Coleman
Josef: Jason Denyer
Jana: Holly Donovan
Producer & General Manager: Rebecca Morgan
Director & Dramaturg: Ria Samartzi
Sound Design: Jon Whitten
Movement Director: Joanna Wenger
Marketing Coordinator & Image Concept: Gabriella Gadsby
Social Media: Rebecca Gwyther
Graphic Design: Paul Virides
Photography: Eldredd Wolf