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According to my tally, ‘Antiwords’s two performers sink 13 bottles of beer between them during the hour they’re onstage. Thirteen bottles in an hour, every night, for a 20-night run – admirable dedication to one’s art, no? Thankfully, Czech theatre company Spitfire is all about ‘dealing with a human’s limitation and his/her existential situation’ in relation to the work being performed. Which I take to mean: it’s totally fine if the actors get a bit squiffy during the course of this wordless show.
‘Antiwords’ is inspired by Vaclav Havel’s ‘Audience’, though being unfamiliar with that text won’t stop you enjoying this one. In Havel’s play (later adapted to film), a brewery gaffer drinks and converses with a dissident writer, becoming increasingly inebriated. In ‘Antiwords’, two female performers don identical suits and oversized heads and mime along as broken fragments of Havel’s text play through the speakers. With the narrative context stripped out, we’re left with a profound and frequently hilarious depiction of male power games.
When the dominant dude fills his junior’s glass without asking, it’s easy to recognise the coercive ‘take a drink’ mindset from pubs across the UK. When the drunk guy struts around the dancefloor to a Czech version of ‘Country Roads’, we recognise the same macho peacocking that us Brits might associate with, say, ‘Come On Eileen’. When the pair sync their body movements to repeated fragments of sound, we witness (through the magic of pattern recognition) the unspoken rituals of male communication – manspreading, defensive shrugs and aggressive shoulder thumps that speak a lot louder than words.
If all that sounds a bit heavy, worry not – the innate, wordless codes that transcend language to depict masculine insecurity are also bloody hilarious. Soaring arcs of foam are unleashed every time the drinkers require a top-up; at one point, the junior partner even enlists an audience member’s help in downing a pint. A dialogue-free Czech movement performance about unspoken male power struggles might not be the easiest sell on the Fringe, but we promise you’ll laugh like hell – and be in the mood for a few beers after.