DIGREVIEW - I, Bertolt Brecht
I, Bertolt Brecht focuses on the life and works of one of the 20th century’s most radical and important artists.
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I, Bertolt Brecht
I, Bertolt Brecht is devised and directed by Sue Pomeroy, who has herself first hand experience of working with Brecht’s own company, the Berliner Ensemble. It is a drama documentary featuring excerpts of Brecht’s plays, poems, letters and writings.
Before the production started as such the actors conducted an exercise in breaking the fourth wall by coming out into the Theatre Royal Wakefield audience. Behind me I hear an extremely patient theatre studies tutor explaining this concept to her pupils. ‘Does that mean we can go on the stage then?’! one half-seriously asks.
The show starts with Brecht and Weill’s Mack the Knife, a murder ballad from The Threepenny Opera that has been made famous by covers from Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald to Nick Cave and Robbie Williams.
Brecht’s early days as a writer for the Augsburger News (as early as 1914) are re-enacted followed by the song, from Baal, Remembering Marie A on the transience of love according to a bohemian poet (Brecht’s alter ego?)
In the poem Theatre of Emotions Brecht discusses the nature of theatre, and naturalism in particular, calling it ‘a sorry trade’ and comments on the audience, ‘no wonder they like to sit in the dark that hides them’.
In the excerpt from Man Equals Man, set in British colonial India, we see civilian Galy Gay transformed into a soldier. Then there is a celebration of the sporting world with Brecht’s poem on boxing Tablet to the Memory of 12 World Champions. This is about ’12 men / who were the best of their day in their line / confirmed by hard fighting / conducted according to the rules / under the eyes of the world’.
What Keeps Man Alive, covered by Tom Waits on his Orphans album, is an anti-authoritarian rant that concludes: ‘Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts’. A slice of Brecht’s masterpiece The Threepenny Opera is performed, an ‘epic’ theatre that is as radical in its form as it is in content.
The autobiographical poem Of Poor B.B. tells of the tedium of urban life whilst somehow celebrating city living too. Class struggle is the subject of The Mother, based on Maxim Gorky’s novel, with the mother’s efforts symbolic of class war.
In Praise of Learning is equally polemic with Brecht imploring directly to us: ‘You must prepare to take command, now!’ through (self)-education. Questions from a Worker Who Reads addresses the injustice in history, which tells the story of rulers but not the ruled.
With the rise of Fascism in Germany Brecht responds with the keynote play of the period, Arturo Ui. We see footage of the burning of the books (media projection greatly enhances our understanding of the complex and fascinating artist’s life and times.) Brecht is rather perplexed that his books are not included on the Nazi hit-list: ‘Burn me!’ he cries with irony.
Another difficult one for the drama to tutor to explain is the alienation effect, ‘acting in quotation marks’. But perhaps to make up for this we are treated to the Alabama Song, known to most of us by The Doors’ lilting and quietly understated version.
In exile in America Brecht writes The Good Person of Szechwan on the links between economics and morality and he is accused of Unamerican Activities (we are treated to some rare footage of this). After an excerpt from Mother Courage there is a rousing finale to this fine ensemble piece where all four actors are capable of fluidly changing from musician, to reader and acting roles. And if the theatre studies students don’t get it now, they never will!
As seen at: Theatre Royal Wakefield www.theatreroyalwakefield.co.uk/
Fuschia Films www.fuschiafilms.com/brecht/
DIGREVIEW - Lost and Found
Jade Montserrat discovers a contrary sense of loss and hope in the double bill of Jane Thornton’s Lost and John Godber’s Found.
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Lost and Found
Lost, written by Jane Thornton and directed by Chris Monks, initially oozes a relaxed atmosphere with no urgency or finesse and expressing jollity and fun. But this is the calm before the storm. The characters, Len and Betty, an amalgam of the guests at the Court Hotel, are played by the Redcoat equivalents, Tom (Matthew Booth) and Chelsea (Jacky Naylor).
We are introduced to them by the Redcoats as a filler to rev up the Court Hotel’s audience (us) who are waiting for the much awaited evening entertainment - the hyped and never-to-appear performance by The Palm Court Boys.
Len, a dour, typically idiosyncratic, proud and anxious Yorkshireman and his long-suffering wife Betty are barely surviving. They are penny-pinching as a necessity and have fallen into disillusionment and discontent after fifty years of marriage.
Len is taking Betty for granted and she won’t let him forget it. Their antagonism towards each other is magnified by their literal proximity to one another as they find themselves stuffed into a hotel room not big enough to swing a cat.
Betty, whose monologues are poignant and nostalgic, longs for independence within their marriage and only after she happens upon an old boy fisherman on the pier during one of her solo strolls does she discover Len’s secret.
Is this the final tipping-point that Betty requires to put her foot down? Can she take the high ground and be proud of her husband’s clandestine actions? Len, after all, sincerely, and perhaps mistakenly, considers himself the captain of their ship, albeit a sinking one.
In Found, written and directed by John Godber with the same actors, the ship is anchored and Chelsea’s entrenched habits are played off against Tom’s sober character. In their own unique and polarised ways both characters are salt-of-the-earth drifters.
Chelsea is a down at heal, slutty ‘mutton’ boozer whose high-jinks are the stuff of legend. Tom is a student with serious and broad minded aspirations. Both find themselves in Scarborough for the season, working at The Court Hotel.
This is Tom’s last surf before he heads back to reality, and the location for their final goodbyes. Chelsea has come to meet Tom, openly nervous and insecure, “on a promise”.
Talking at cross purposes, issuing quick-fired quips, they each reveal their politics, tantamount to declaring their inherent foibles. Tom and Chelsea are victims of their social class: one having risen above it, the other literally gutter-bound.
Theirs is a farcical, awkward and merely suggested holiday romance where charged sensibilities heighten as the respective characters’ dreams of their imagined relationship descend into deep waters.
Lost and Found are tender and grounded plays commenting ultimately on reality and peripherally on the fine-line and the final straws within relationships. They deal with prevailing class systems, behaviour and certainly with Chelsea’s character, the demonizing of a particular group within our society.
The writers (Jane Thornton and John Godber respectively) have brought to the fore a number of social problems, not exclusive to Scarborough. The resort town, however, epitomizes the end of the line, where a ship-load are waiting to be picked up and found again. These plays reinforce the old Biblical and Beatles adage: all you needs is love.
6 July to 1 September 2012, Stephen Joseph Theatre
10 to 16 September, Theatre Royal Wakefield
Pic: Jacky Naylor and Matthew Booth in Found.
Photo: Karl Andre Photography
DIGREVIEW - Joss Arnott Dance: The Dark Angel
The Dark Angel Tour is in Yorkshire as part of the New Realities Project by Dep Arts, an orchestrated campaign to bring new audiences in Yorkshire to contemporary dance. It’s a three-year project, and Dark Angel is one of the first pieces to benefit from the collaboration with audience development and marketing experts.
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Joss Arnott Dance: The Dark Angel
The Dark Angel mixed programme features three very different pieces, one danced by Joss Arnott himself and the other two by ensembles of his all-female company.
Joss Arnott has an eclectic background, having danced commercially with music artists, with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and at Transitions Dance Company. His work betrays a preoccupation with the body, with what one can make it do, how far it can be pushed and how quickly it can move.
This is clearly the case in Origin, the piece that he has choreographed and performs himself. It’s a short piece but completely enthralling; Joss contorts and gyrates steadily as a pool of light slowly spreads across the stage.
He assumes unexpected, uncomfortable positions but maintains a fluid movement and makes the whole thing look completely effortless. The overall effect is of an unconventional, arresting beauty.
24 is inspired by Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibition. It’s full of energy, very dynamic and constantly challenging. Where Origin encourages introspection and examination of our bodies, 24 is more concerned with the way we interact with others and the relationship between society and our bodies.
It links nicely on to Threshold, which tests the female body in an aggressive, powerful, dynamic flurry of dance. The entire company has a bristling, electric physicality that sparks across the stage.
Although some dancers stand out more than others, there are no better moments than when every performer is contorting together in unison, pulsing and twisting and turning to the beat of a primitive drum.
Photo: Francois Verbeek
As seen at: Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds, 18 April 2013
11 May 2013, Theatre Royal Wakefield
1 June 2013, The Civic, Barnsley
DIGREVIEW - Bin Men
Playwright Mike Kenny has a long pedigree in creating winning children’s theatre. He has teamed up with AJTC theatre group for this new play with music.
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With a simple set and imaginative use of props, the bin men take us on a journey that explores the nature of rubbish and the importance of learning about recycling.
The story doesn’t patronise the children, trusting them to be able to cope with themes that include mental illness and depression as bin man Don (Mick Jasper) finds himself struggling to deal with personal misfortune and receding into a fantasy world of knights and maidens.
The audience were quite young and I wondered if they’d lose concentration but this team clearly know what keeps children’s attention and pitched this well.
Iain Armstrong, meanwhile, as well as the role of Don’s friend and colleague Sam, had to take on three very different characters from 7 year old Jenny to shuffling elderly neighbour Simon and bar maid Dulsie.
Musician and Composer Nigel Waterhouse was the third on-stage performer and he added greatly to the atmosphere with some great mood-setting tunes and effects. The coming of the van was greatly enjoyed by the young audience.
This show contains lots of movement with the bins constantly being moved around, emptied and refilled. In fact the bins were one of my young companion Toby’s favourite things in the show, after the bin men. He has a litter picker and he’s now good to go after seeing this show.
14 to 25 May 2013, York Theatre Royal Studio
29 June 2013, Theatre Royal Wakefield