Tag: social

Let’s Talk About Brecht…

n38onbnij9s9nbj8

Other than William Shakespeare, is there any playwright who has shaped modern theatre more than Brecht?

I had the great pleasure of seeing the Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Brecht’s The Good Soul of Szechuan last Friday night. It wasn’t a flawless production (it’s certainly not a flawless play). The first scene of the play fumbled awkwardly to keep the audience’s attention. But the second half, after intermission, was a truly evocative piece of social critique, and went down like a warm glass of milk. The story of a hooker with a heart of gold who struggles to stay good under the stress of economic pressure, but can’t find stability without creating a male alter-ego, is not something from an understated drama. In fact, it’s incredibly didactic, bludgeoning you with its “ideas” and “themes” and “messages”. But it works because that’s Brecht’s intention. He asks us difficult questions but is smart (honest?) enough to know he doesn’t have any answers. Despite the fact The Good Soul of Szechuan isn’t much more than a parable, it manages to be heartfelt and humanistic, much to the credit of Robyn Malcom’s performance in the central role.

For all the “distancing effects” and ideas of “epic theatre” Brecht and his practitioners apply, there is an undeniable empathy in his works. They might be political works that attempt to make us think. But the personal is political, as it is often said. We cannot separate the two. And if we dare to turn theatre into pure spectacle and mere entertainment we do a great disservice to the medium.

If you had told me I would one day consider Brecht to be one of my favourite writers just a couple of years ago I’d have laughed and rolled my eyes at you, sarcastically retorting, “Yeah, right, mate,” in an intensely dismissive and glib fashion.

But Brecht will never be out of fashion. His messages are as pertinent as ever.

I’d like to wrap up this little tribute with a quote from the man himself. I feel Brecht’s fingers pointed directly at me as I read these words. No doubt they will only mean more to me as I grow older, echoing in my mind:

“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”

Advertisements

Thoughts on Saved

saved

 

Saved
A play by Edward Bond

(NOTE: The following mini-essay contains spoilers for the aforementioned play.)

First thing’s first, I am not easily shocked. Second thing, Edward Bond’s Saved shocked me.

I didn’t have the (dis)pleasure of seeing it on the stage, and it is doubtful I ever will. But merely reading the words on the page gave me a glimpse of something deeply disturbing. Saved is a play that is rarely staged due to its infamous scene: A group of hooligans are messing around at a park. Pam, a young single mother, comes around with her baby in a pram to find one of the hooligans – the father of the child. He refuses to acknowledge the child as his. They argue, she storms off, and leaves the child behind. This is where things get messy. The hooligans begin to tease and torture the child, treating it with less compassion than if it were a farm animal. At first they just pretend the pram is a weapon to mow each other down with. But, soon enough, they begin pinching and punching the baby, then smearing its own shit all over it. Finally, the violence escalates into a game of stone-throwing with the child as the target.

There’s nothing quite as horrific as this moment, but the most shocking thing is the play’s determination to grasp at any grains of hope it can find. Most of the play’s characters are devoid of much humanity but they aren’t inhuman. They are symbols and products of social discord: men and women without jobs or dreams. We have but one ray of hope throughout the play: Len, the dopey but well-meaning lad who moves in with Pam and her parents at the beginning of the play as their tenant. He lingers around doing what he can, not quite friend or family but there nonetheless. He exists as evidence of some remaining moral compass in society and proof of possibility, though we don’t yet know what possibility that may be.

In the final moments of the play, Len is sitting down in the living room with Pam and her parents in silence. There has been conflict and strife. Pam has lost her child but seems to lash out with superficial concerns, blaming all those around her. Her parents have had a terrible fight after years of barely talking to each other. Len is at the center of all this though none of it is his fault. He could move out and start again, but that would be running away. So, he stays. He takes their broken chair and attempts to fix it. It is not easy to be optimistic and it certainly isn’t a happy ending. But it’s a start.