Czech / UK: Theatre play inspired by censored rock band

8 June 2006

‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is a new play partly based on the story about the rock band The Plastic People of the Universe from Prague. It brings the story of their incredible struggle against the Czech authorities back to attention. The play had its world premiere and began playing at the Royal Court Theatre in London, England, on 3 June 2006  

‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is “a brilliant exploration of liberty, rebellion and identity” according to The Observer’s Neal Ascherson: “A subtle, complex play about ways to resist ‘systems’ and preserve what is human.”
The play captures the spirit of the 1960s from the Prague underground, where a rock’n’roll band – The Plastic People of the Universe – comes to symbolise resistance to the communist regime. At its core is a succession of arguments between two Czech friends, Jan and Ferda. Jan, forced to work as a kitchen porter, at first despises Ferda’s petitions against arrests and censorship as the self-indulgence of an intellectual clique. A devout rock enthusiast, he sees the persecuted rock band the Plastic People of the Universe as the essence of freedom because they simply don’t care about anything but the music.

The Plastic People of the Universe was the main representative of the Prague underground culture in the end of the 1960s. This avantgarde group went against the grain of the communist regime and due to its non-conformism often suffered serious problems such as trials and arrests.

The free encyclopedia Wikipedia writes:
The consolidated Czech communist government revoked the band’s musicians license in 1970. In 1974, thousands of students traveled from Prague to the town of Ceske Budejovice to visit “the Plastics” performance. Stopped brutally by police, they were sent back to Prague in cattle cars, and several students were arrested. The band was forced underground until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Unable to perform openly, an entire underground cultural movement formed around the band during the 1970s.
In 1976 “the Plastics” were arrested and put on trial by the Communist government to make an example. They were convicted of “Organized Disturbance of the Peace” and sentenced to terms in prison ranging from 8 to 18 months. It was in protest of these arrests that led playwright Václav Havel and others to write the ‘Charter 77’. The declaration of rights and liberties was signed by a few hundred men and women which earned them prison sentences and suffocating surveillance but also created attention to the charter around the world.
Despite their clashes with the government, the musicians of The Plastic People of the Universe never considered themselves activists and always claimed that they wanted only to play their music.

Interviewed by The Observer, the writer of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, Tom Stoppard, explains that he has been fascinated by the Plastic People, and by the idea that the most devastating response to tyranny might be the simple wish to be left alone. In the 1960s, he had met and talked to Ivan Jirous, the manager of the Plastic People, whose long hair enraged the authorities in Prague.
On a different note, Tom Spoppard wrote an article in the March issue of Index of Censorship, published in a shortened version in The Guardian, in which he argues that the right of free expression and free speech is not self-evident, not an inalienable ‘human right’.




The Plastic People of the Universe in concert in 1979.

Photo: Ondřej Němec


Sources: – 4 June 2006:
‘Revolution in the head’

Times Online – 11 June 2006:
‘Czechs and thugs and rock’n’roll’

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (edited by anyone):
‘The Plastic People of the Universe’

Google News – updated continously:
Search ‘The Plastic People of the Universe’

The Guardian – 18 March 2006:
‘A matter of give and take’ – about the right of free expression

Official website of The Plastic People of the Universe:
Related reading
Farhad Darya – Official web site    
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