Black Light Theatre uses a black back cloth and people dressed as ninjas (i.e. all in black) to move objects around. I seem to remember that it was used in a TV advert a few years ago (but can’t remember which one) and then it was also used as a task in Big Brother the same year (in the days when Big Brother was good. No that isn’t a contradiction in terms. One year it was very entertaining when thingy was in it. You know, the one with the thing. He had a thing for one of the girls. I said it was good that year but I can’t remember a single person from it).
The beauty of it is that it doesn’t involve any speech and relies purely on visual gags and mime (a sort of cross between Marcel Marsaud, Mr Bean and that bloke with the top hat and flower that always looked a bit too cosy with Janet Elis on “Jigsaw” (Google it kids)).
Anyway we went along to one of the theatres a few days ago to ask about tickets. “No problems, we usually have tickets available on the day.” Not wanting to risk it, we went back in the day before the show. “Tickets for Saturday? No sorry, all sold out”. Bummer. Luckily I had remembered that we had passed another theatre elsewhere. There are several theatres so I guessed we should be able to find a show somewhere. We found the theatre…and a sign at the box office saying “back in 5 mins”. (Not a good omen). A few minutes later a young girl appeared in the window. She seemed somewhat startled to see 2 customers waiting. She was so excited that she opened the door and came out to see us.
“Can I have 2 tickets for Saturday night please?”
“Yes, Yes, of course!”
(The desperation in her voice should really have given the game away). We paid her and she told us to come early to get a good seat near the back or the middle. The performance started at 8:00 but the theatre opened at 7:30.
On Saturday night we made our way back. The theatre was down a back alley and we got there just before 7:30 . There was another couple waiting for the doors to open. They had obviously heeded her advice about getting there early too. We entered off the street into a small room which had a tiny bar in the corner and 2 doors to the toilets off it. Very compact. There was one door off to our left which we were bustled into. This was the theatre. A small theatre. A very small theatre.
I’ve just finished a stint working at the Edinburgh Festival and so I am used to seeing shows in tiny upstairs rooms that seat about 50. This was on a par with those. It looked like a Dr’s waiting room was missing all its chairs as they were all here. There were only 8 rows, so the difference in distance from the front to the middle to the back was negligible and hardly worth getting us there half an hour early (although they did seem keen to get us to buy beer in that time. Funny that).
There was just us and another couple to begin with but by the time the show started there were at least 24 of us. (Amazingly, after the interval there were still 24 of us, but I’m getting ahead of myself). The clock outside struck 8:00, they closed the door and the auditorium prepared itself for the performance in the traditional way of turning the lights up full. The operator must have quickly realised that she had turned the knob the wrong way as a few seconds later she turned them down.
The backdrop up until this point had been a disturbing image of a clown (see picture) but that was whisked away to reveal a black set with some bright props on stage glowing luminescent under UV light. We were looking at what looked like a paper mâché clothes line. A little sign appeared saying “The Laundrette” and then disappeared (into someone’s black pocket I guess). Then a pert blonde lady skipped on stage and began pretending to wash in a wooden wash tub. If you remember Poland’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, it was a bit like that. I was starting to get a bit worried about what type of a show this was. She strutted, twirled and generally hammed the whole thing up. She put the clothes on the line and in some plot twist appeared to be called off stage to leave the washing to dry. Then (you guessed it) the washing came to life. There was a complex story which revolved around 2 pairs of bloomers fighting for the hand of a pair of French knickers(!) and it was over.
There was gentle ripple of applause. Next there was a drawn out sequence which ended up with a giant suitcase eating the 2 men on stage. Then followed an almost Chaplin-esque routine (if Chaplin had no sense of timing or rhythm) about a violinist and also two drunk dancing gas lamps (which were actually very good. Very Fantasia like). The first half ended with our pirouetting lady (who looked a bit like Katherine Jenkins) returning to the stage to do a magic act, which slightly lost the magic as we knew that in fact it was just people in black making the the stuff levitate.
With that, the lights came up (intentionally this time), and 24 people looked at each other wondering what to do next. This was the interval, so was the ideal opportunity to leg it. But in a sort theatrical version of Stockholm Syndrome, we were starting to like our captors who were holding us in this small underground cell. There was obviously no speech in any of this performance and all the scenes were played out to a music and an effects track (which the actors managed to synchronise with about 80% of the time). The thing was that the recording sounded really old (as if it was from the 1960’s). The music too was off that age.
The next half started with a new actor, who was the spitting image of Sir Ben Kingsley (how the great have fallen, I thought). There followed a scene revolving around a photographer and his camera, then another vignette about a man dreaming about a mermaid, and finally one set in the Wild West about a horse. At the end the whole cast came on including the black out artists who were 2 attractive girls and a lad who looked 12. They took their curtain call, Sir Ben and the Katherine Jenkins look alike, mugging the stage like they were on the West End. One of the black out girls had a lovely look on her face as she came for her bow which seemed to say “I’m so sorry for that” and “I’m only doing this for the money”. The thing is, the black out stuff was really, really good. It was just the other actors on the stage and the scripts that were a bit dated and hammy. She waved, also most apologetically and then it ended and we were released.
As we were jettisoned onto the busy streets of Prague myself a Karen had to share our feelings on what we had seen (a bit like therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Karen summed it up beautifully; “It all went a bit Dougal and the Blue Cat in places”. Now 98% of you will have no idea what that means, but if you you have ever seen that film, then you will know exactly what that means. If you don’t get it, Google it. We concluded that as the theatre company was formed in 1961, they were still using the original scripts, props and soundtrack. Alas like so many things from the 1960’s, they haven’t aged well. If you don’t believe me, then track down the 22 other patrons who are still trying to come to terms with what they saw in that little theatre.
STOP PRESS: Since writing this I have been on the website of the company and it says this about the show we saw:
“The audience is guided through the 53-year history of Srnec Theatre. You may see, for instance, the oldest black light theatre scene „Launderette“ that had been created two years prior to the official foundation of the Srnec Theatre. The scene „ Magician“ allows the invisible performers to show their mastery. The objects appear, change, and vanish again. The audience gets surprised and fascinated. The nearly human behaviour of the four-legged friend of a Western bartender in the scene „Horse“ makes the audience laugh heartily.”
That explains why it seeme so dated!