Review: Czech Theater’s “The White Disease” by Karel Čapek

Charlie Trotter (left) as Dr Sigelius and Scott Adams (centre) as The Marshal in The White Disease. Photo credit: Czech Theater.

Brno, May 24 (BD) – Czech Theater’s amateur performance of the Czech classic, The White Disease by Karel Čapek, was an excellent display of talent and creativity. With the play translated from Czech to English, it was evident that great care had been taken to preserve the essence of the original work, while still making it accessible to an international audience. The talented cast of both Czech and expat actors brought their own unique flair to the stage, demonstrating a clear understanding of their characters.

Charlie Trotter took on the role of Dr Sigelius, a self-serving and slimy man who cares more about his reputation than the health of his patients. Trotter’s performance is both humorous and saddening, drawing laughter from the audience while also infusing his character with a sense of melancholy and, at times, desperation. His character’s self-absorption and lack of concern for others were depicted superbly, making it impossible not to be drawn into his story. 

Another standout performance was that of Scott Adams. While Trotter’s performance was that of a loud and boisterous individual, Adams’ played a much more subtle role as The Marshal, a dictator who would rather see a war fulfilled than cure the disease plaguing his nation. His understated approach to the role added a sense of quiet menace to the character, creating an atmosphere of tension within each scene. Adams’ imposing statue, along with the costume choice of an all-black ensemble, made his performance all the more commanding. 

Finally, we arrive at Dr Galen, the character around whom a lot of the play centres. Dr Galen has the cure to The White Disease, but refuses to share her secret. After seeing the brutalities of war firsthand, Dr Galen wants all the nations of the world to declare peace. Lenka Koudelková’s portrayal was a study in emotional complexity. Her performance captured the essence of a doctor struggling with her conscience as she watches people die from disease while trying to do what’s best for her nation. Koudelková demonstrated a deep understanding of her character’s inner turmoil, adding a layer of relatability for the audience.

Dr Sigelius (Charlie Trotter) reprimands Dr Galen (Lenka Koudelkova). Credit: Czech Theater.

Although not every cast member was able to make a splash, and there were forgotten lines or stumbles every so often, you could see the effort that had been put into creating a piece of theatre that was not only accessible, but also extremely enjoyable. 

The lighting design by Klaus Gjika is also worth a mention. He managed to create a sense of intimacy with just a few very simple, yet effective, tricks. It drew the audience into the stage and made us feel as though we were peering into the Marshal’s chambers as opposed to watching a stage in the hall of a community centre.

The use of props was minimal but effective, enhancing the performance and making sure that the audience noticed each time they were used. The simplicity of the set allowed the actors to shine, and the sparing use of props helped to draw attention to key moments of the play. For example, simply by preparing and holding a syringe full of medicine, the audience were on the edge of our seats to see if Galen would be bribed to administer her cure. 

The White Disease explores some complex themes and examines the lengths to which people will go to protect their own interests, even at the expense of others. It considers the idea of medical ethics and the role of science in society, raising important questions about the responsibility that comes with possessing both knowledge and expertise. It was especially poignant in a post-covid society, where parallels could be seen despite the play being written 86 years ago. 

Overall, this performance of The White Disease was a success, showcasing the immense talent that can be found among our English-speaking community here in Brno. It had the ability to tackle complicated social issues in a manner that was both entertaining and thought-provoking. The passion brought by each actor was commendable, allowing the audience to connect with the characters. I’m looking forward to seeing what other performances Czech Theater will bring in the future.

Czech Theater’s “The White Disease” is also playing this weekend, 27-28 May, at Vesna, Udolni 10. You can buy tickets here.

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