Black Light Theatre Srnec : A visit to a Czech national treasure

Black light theatre (in Czech cerne divadlo) is a theatrical performance characterized by the use of black box theatre augmented by black light illusion. The characteristics of black light theatre are the use of black curtains, a darkened stage and black lighting. At the same time, the performers wear fluorescent costumes in order to create visual illusions. This form of theatre originated in Asia and can be found in many places around the world. In modern European culture, the black box trick was adopted by the Russian director Konstantin Stanislavski, the film director George Melies and various French avantgarde directors during the 1950s.

Photo from our visit to Jiri Srnec’s theatre

The father of modern black light theatre, creator of the black cabinet as it is used today, with the placement of spot and UV lights and the selection of black velvet as the best material to absorb residual light on the scene (and the creator of the name “black light theatre”) is Jiri Srnec. The modern black light theatre was born when his ensemble gave its first performance in 1959 in Vienna and became world famous after its participation in the Theatre Festival in Edinburgh in 1962. Prague has since become the home of black light theatre with around 10 black light theatre companies.

Photos from Black Light Theatre Srnec’s official site

Jiri Srnec’s performances have been seen since the first performance by more than 5 million spectators on more than 300 tours in 68 countries. In 2002 Jiri Srnec’s company was chosen to represent Czech culture during the NATO summit in Prague. In 2011, Jiri Srnec was awarded the Medal of Merit in the field of culture and art, in 2014 he was awarded the European cultural award Trebbia for creative activity and in 2018 he received the special Thalia award for his “extraordinary contribution to the Czech theatre art”.

During our visit to Prague, we wanted to watch a black light theatre show. Without a second thought, we decided to book tickets to Jiri Srnec’s theatre to watch a show as genuine as possible, keeping in mind Srnec’s contribution to this genre. We walked to Na Prikope and looked for the Palac Savarin where the theatre is located. We entered the inner courtyard of the building and saw the unpretentious entrance of the theatre. There was a small bar at the entrance and the main hall was relatively small with less than a hundred seats. The face of a clown was depicted on the curtains of the scene. For a moment a thought crossed our minds “is this really the theatre of the great Jiri Srnec?”. Suddenly the lights went out and the show began. It was an anthology of eight scenes from the work of Black Light Theatre Srnec since its founding in 1961.

And then the magic happened. We forgot where we were and got lost in colors, childhood memories and unforgettable images. In the words of Jiri Srnec “each thing the human has invented and made may contain humour that may be understood by anybody. The convincingness of the objects coming to life is given by the manipulator’s acting mastery… the silent movie era, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin – these masters are still being admired. Laughter, or smile at least, is needed more now – in the over-engineered period of too many words and few good deeds – than before”. After about 45 minutes the lights came on for the intermission and we got back to reality, looking forward to the second part to start. After the end of the second part, we were absolutely sure that it was one of the purest and most honest shows we have ever seen in all of Europe.

Entrance of the Black Light Theatre Srnec

If you happen to visit Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, be sure to book tickets for this humble yet unique show with global appeal and discover a Czech national cultural treasure.

Book your tickets only through the official site of the theatre or buy your tickets at the theatre at least 30 minutes before the show.

See also our articles on Prague Legends