Posts Tagged ‘Bertolt Brecht’

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva Theatre, CFT Chichester, July 2012

12 July, 2012

Bertolt Brecht wrote this play, parodying Hitler as Chicago mobster Arturo Ui, in less than a month in 1941 while awaiting his US visa in Helsinki. Other main characters represent various people Hitler either used or killed to get where he was. Its didacticism is intended for an American audience, and although the first act dragged a bit, the second proved to be far more riveting, and the acting was superb.

Nightclub musicians at the start, all images Manuel Harlan

Henry Goodman in the title role gave an extraordinary performance, showing a hunchback worthy of Richard III, and comic elements worthy of Peter Sellers. After a row among his accomplices when he says, “I want what’s best for you. And I know what’s best for you!”, he is left alone, and the scene with the piano was pure Inspector Clouseau. This is followed by a magnificent coup de theâtre brought on by the dramatic appearance of a 1930s car at night with headlights blazing.

Ui and right hand man Roma

William Gaunt gave a fine portrayal of the highly respected Dogsborough (Paul von Hindenburg), and some of the low-life Chicago accents were brilliant, particularly Michael Feast as Roma and Joe McGann as Giri (representing Ernst Röhm and Joseph Goebbels). Helpful notes in the programme tie the various scenes to historical facts from Hitler’s rise to power up until the Anschluss with Austria, represented here by the Chicago suburb of Cicero. In reality Cicero was ethnically Czech, but fiercely independent of Chicago, as Brecht doubtless knew. Lizzy McInnerny as the powerful lady of Cicero, wife of the murdered Dullfoot (Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss), made a welcome female addition to an mostly male cast, and her interactions with Hitler — I mean Ui — were carried off to perfection.

Ui on the way up

This excellent production by Jonathan Church ends with the dictator on a high podium, from which the cover is later torn off revealing the means by which he arrived there. In the meantime we have been treated to wonderful theatrical effects, well lit by Tim Mitchell, with very effective designs by Simon Higlett, and music by Matthew Scott that includes excerpts from Wagner: Siegfried’s funeral march in Act I, and the Pilgrims’ march from Tannhäuser just before the end.

The play was not staged until 1958, after Brecht’s death, but with the rise and fall of numerous dictators today — some comical like this one, some less so — productions are surely welcome. And finally the text allows Henry Goodman to remove his moustache and utter the ominous lines, “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is on heat again”.

Performances continue until July 28 — for details click here.

Mother Courage, National Theatre, November 2009

1 December, 2009

This play by Bertolt Brecht — Mother Courage and her Children — was written very swiftly after the German invasion of Poland that year, but is set in the period of the thirty-year war from 1618 to 1648. It deals with a shrewd canteen woman who follows the troops across northern Germany, making a living from the business of war. At one point there is an ending of hostilities, which distresses her since she has just stocked up with provisions, whose value will rapidly fall. But in fact the war carries on, and the action is contained in twelve years during the middle of the war, represented in twelve scenes. An important technique used by Brecht is his Verfremdungseffect (alienation effect), which he says “prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer”. This is achieved by the use of very simple props and scenery, often named by placards, and using the same actors in varied roles. It works in the sense that we are observers who remain unmoved by some of the terrible events that occur. Nor indeed do we feel any sympathy with Mother Courage herself, who was brilliantly played by Fiona Shaw. Her wily toughness comes over as part of her personality, rather than a survival mechanism, but who is to say? Her mute daughter Kattrin was well portrayed by Sophie Stone, and her younger son, the simple but honest Swiss Cheese was beautifully played by Harry Melling.

There is not a single character for whom one really feels much sympathy, and the dark side of war is ever-present. The play was well directed by Deborah Warner, with songs by Duke Special and ‘musicscape’ by Mel Mercier. The fine translation was by Tony Kushner, and the narrator’s voice was that of Gore Vidal, whose extremely bleak view of war, seeing it as a way of balancing the budget, was quoted in the programme. It was rather odd to have a variety of accents, American for Vidal, Irish for both Mother Courage and Stephen Kennedy as the chaplain, and English for most of the cast, but in some ways this conveyed a sense of internationalism to business carried on by other means, and aided the Verfremdungseffect desired by Brecht.