"All Political Careers End in Failure"

So said Enoch Powell, and few have disagreed with him. I went at the weekend to see a Vaclav Havel play on this theme, "Leaving", at the Orange Tree in Richmond. Havel was, for those who don't know, a dissident playwright and poet under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. He was a key human rights activist, suffering prison terms for his pains, but when the 'Velvet Revolution' came along, Havel was one of the leading figures, and eventually became his country's first post-communist president. He stayed as president through the country's break-up into two republics, and was a much feted figure. He stood down in 2003, being succeeded by a man, Vaclav Klaus, who he did not have much regard for. His play was about the disappointment of life after office, and the emptiness of what passes for politics. Based around the departure from office of a European Chancellor (kept deliberately nationally vague), Havel managed to convey the impotence of would-be 'great men', whilst also being thoroughly subversive about the form of plays. Melancholic though the subject matter was, Havel injected considerable humour, even farce, into his work, as well as pastiching King Lear at one point. It was a gem of a production, and whatever historians say about Havel's political achievements, I suspect his written work will stand the test of time, informed as they are by his extraordinary career.


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