Rendezvous in Bratislava review at Battersea Arts Centre, London – ‘fascinating and affectionate’
Miriam Sherwood’s late grandfather Laco Kalina lived a life large enough to fill five volumes of autobiography. Born in 1913, under the pseudonym Jan Kalina, he was a prominent figure on the cabaret scene of what was then Czechoslovakia and published a collection of 1001 Slovak jokes.
He died before Miriam was born but when clearing out her grandmother’s apartment she came across a stash of letters and photographs that she used to create a performance exploring his life and work. The resulting show is part lecture on Slovak cultural history, part recreation of his material, and part act of creative communion with her grandfather.
Performing in Slovak and English with assistance from bow-tied musicians Thom Andrewes and Will Gardner, Sherwood mixes songs, skits, family stories and personal reflections – before adding a splash of borovicka, a potent Slovak spirit, to the mix.
The stage has been designed to replicate her grandparents’ apartment, in which lively literary parties were held, and the audience are welcomed into this space.
Her grandfather lived through a turbulent time in European history and the show explores his experiences as a Jew during Second World War and as an artist in the Soviet era. Having survived fascism, he then spent time in prison under the communist regime – there are telling gaps in his autobiography.
There are occasional issues with the clarity of the storytelling and the piece is a bit baggy and rambling in places, but then people’s lives do not run in neat lines. As a whole, it makes for an affectionate, intimate and often moving piece, as well as a fascinating insight into life on the other side of the Iron Curtain.