Václav Havel was probably the most powerful playwright who ever lived, having the distinction of being the first President of the Czech Republic as well as a heroic dissident and author of several well-received plays. His death on 17th December 2011 (strangely the day after Kim Jong-il died, wits at the time suggesting some kind of cosmic balance was being restored) forms the backdrop of this satisfying new play by Petr Kolečko – translated from the original Czech. It seems fitting to pay tribute to one of the few theatre-makers who stood at the intersection of power and art with a play both about both politics and family relationships, even if it feels as if it is really only the incubator for seeds of a better play.

The plot features Pavlina (Daiva Dominyka) introducing her idealistic activist boyfriend Viktor (Mark Ota) to her spiky poker-millionaire mother Jana (Lara Parmiani) during that 2011 Christmas period. Jana might have slept with Havel many years ago: as Pavlina puts it with a dash of absurd panic, there is a “14.3% chance” that Havel might be her father, and that she should therefore be grieving. What follows is a domestic Christmas drama with some familiar notes, some cool wit, and a fair bit of bagginess that could be easily excised. Yet when it hits its stride this is clearly the work of a confident theatrical imagination: a sex scene choreographed over the footage of the funeral choir singing a requiem Mass especially is enjoyably mad.

The politics of the piece are interesting to an English audience, especially because the legacy of Havel and the dissidents of his generation sit so differently for the millennials of Central Europe than any comparable political figures in this country. After all, they genuinely overthrew a totalitarian government, and modern activism facing up to a recession has nothing quite as glamourous to do: as Viktor is keen to highlight, his idealism is in fact much more modest and pragmatic than that of Jana’s generation. Her descent from the giddy thrill of revolution into a cynic winning money off fools in poker is a nice understated symbol of a less ideological age. The ghost of a proper Mitteleuropan exploration of the limits of agency and politics hangs over the play; I think it is probably for the best it never fully emerges on stage – even if the background appearance of Hillary Clinton at Havel’s funeral makes for a neat little wink to the audience.

The performances are fine, with Parmiani being the obvious standout as a genuinely complex mess of contradictions and always fascinating while never likeable. She is capable of holding the play together even as it descends into melodrama. Good if slightly underused audio-visual effects lend a slightly daring air to the play, and it is enjoyable and clear even if occasionally under-cooked. The central ideas about gambling and its relationship with the recession are ones that I think could be repackaged in a second more ambitious draft of the play, but in its current form it remains a respectable and respectful tribute to the legacy of Havel and his nation.

Poker Face is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until October 31.