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Evening Standard (London)
29 March 1995

A COUP DE THEATRE
By Nicholas De Jongh

Sam Walters's revival of Vaclav Havel's scathing, satirical comedy -thirty
years after its Prague premiere - shows time has not diminished its power,
its wit or its importance. In 1965 The Memorandum may have been taken as an
artfully veiled critique of Soviet communism and the cowed, conformist
societies it bred. But today the play, with its echoes of Kafka, Lewis
Carroll and The Theatre of the Absurd - particularly Eugene Ionesco- sends
out more disquieting and universal messages. It emerges as a satire upon
the bureaucracies which control us: our brave new world may revel in
sophisticated forms of communication. But we are, Havel suggests,
increasingly alienated from each other and wary of real contact. The
Memorandum is set in the Kafkaesque office of some large, anonymous
organisation. Here Josef Gross, the managing director, arrives to discover a
memorandum consisting of gibberish - of weird groupings of letters. This, as
Josef's secretary helpfully explains, is the new 'office' language of
Ptydepe , in which all staff are already being schooled. And although John
Hudson's Jan Ballas, the deputy director, may be responsible for the
innovation, he gives so many orders he can't keep track of them all.

Josef's sense of bewilderment as authority begins to slip from his grasp,
recalls many communist coups. But Havel's shafts are directed against any
society where meaningless rules prevail. The scenes where splendidly
pedagogic John Baddeley teaches the new nonsense language of Ptydepe, rival
Stoppard and Monty Python for comic ingenuity and invention. And though the
flow of Sam Walters's production is disturbed by pedantic scene changes,
there's no missing the elan with which the deceits, power-games and
absurdities of this world are exposed: Gross falls and rises again, while
Ptydepe proves too difficult for everyone. David Allister, sentimentally
presents the pompous,self-justifying Gross as a tremulous neurotic. But John
Hudson's phlegmatic Ballas - as quietly threatening as a flick-knife in the
dark- maintains the play's satiric and moral focus. And Victoria Hamilton
makes an impressive stage debut as a young secretary who refuses to follow
the conformist line and is rewarded with dismissal for her courage: an
evening of dark comedy.

(Submitted by Tara)