This is the legendary 1978 samizdat recording of Audience, starring Václav Havel (1936-2011) as Vanek and Pavel Landovský as Sládek. It was recorded by folk singer Vladimír Merta in his Prague appartment in 1978 and published by the Šafrán label, ran from Upsalla, Sweden, by Czech exiles Jirí Pallas and Jaroslav Hutka, both signatories of the Charter 77. The LP was unofficially circulated in Czechoslovakia and many Czechs knew parts of the play by heart after 1978, despite the fact any Havel publication was banned in the country since the 1968 Soviet invasion. Havel himself was briefly imprisoned in 1978 and continuously from June 1979 to January 1984. This is a rare example of a record which proved dangerous for its authors, as well as for the entire Soviet system. Czech record company Bonton officially published the recording for the first time in 1990, soon after Havel became president of Czechoslovakia in December 1989.
Audience (as it is titled in Czech) belongs to a trilogy of partly autobiographical one-act plays also known as the Vanek Trilogy, comprising Audience (1975), Protest (1978) and Mistake (1983), based on Havel’s experience of being forced to work in a brewery and under constant harassment from the Communist regime. Taking place in the brewery’s office, Audience is a meeting between the brewery’s manager Sládek and employee Vanek. While the manager is clearly opening too many beers and inducing into binge drinking, it is less clear what he wants from Vanek, though it ultimately transpires he has a deal to offer: a promotion agaisnt informations on Vanek’s political activities. A transcript of the play in Czech is available as PDF here. A short synopsis here. See also Havel’s biographer Carol Rocamora’s analysis of these one-act plays here.
Altered images on the front and back cover of this LP allude to the Communist regimes’s habit of altering and falsifying photographs. Framed Czechoslovakia president Gustáv Husák is letting his eyebrows grow thick ala Brejnev, an allusion to his allegiance to the Soviet regime. In 1975, Havel addressed a letter to Husák, pleading for more democracy in the country.
The sign “Dobre Dari” is the end of the famous Czech motto “Kde se pivo vari, tam se dobre dari” (Where beer is brewed, they have it good). It becomes “BRDA” on the flip, though I couldn’t find the signification of this (any help welcomed).
01 Audience 21:00
02 Audience – continued 20:25
Václav Havel, Vanek
Pavel Landovský, Sladek
Total time 41:25
LP released by Bonton records, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1990
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