BURTON ON BRECHT
Words: Joel Burton
Image: Sisi Savidge
In these heady, disarming days, it is undoubtedly natural to turn to a playwright that revels in fractious drama like Bertolt Brecht. However, while Fear & Misery in the Third Reich premiered in Paris over eighty years ago, today City Academy Actors Company offers a subtly contemporary adaptation of the Brecht’s anti-Nazi message in their frenetically charged performance of a selection of the play’s ‘playlets'.
Directed by Roger Evans and performed by the City Academy after just seven days of rehearsals, the play moves through many of Fear and Misery…’s most notorious vignettes in staccato fashion. With each actor assuming multiple and wildly juxtaposing characters throughout the play we are never granted the ability to settle into a detectable rhythm or pace.
Brecht’s particular branch of epic theatre, born in response to the tumultuous political climate of mid-twentieth century Germany, perhaps resonates more now than it has in the eighty or so years since he was writing in exile. As stated by the company, Fear & Misery… explicitly portrays how themes of poverty, violence, fear and pretense manifested themselves in homes during the rise of Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist Germany.
With a sparsely set stage, this particular production resisted any attempt to uproot the play from its original setting. Yet, by interspersing each of Brecht’s short sketches with projections of not-quite-comprehensible CCTV footage, Evans managed to resituate the plays’ abiding themes squarely in the present day. While the cast portrayed overbearing SA Officers or poverty-stricken Jews, a backdrop of silhouetted figures lurking around contemporary urban spaces questions whether, societally, much has changed since Brecht’s era.
‘The Judicial Process’ proved a particularly well-paced portion of the play. The judge’s frenetic energy oscillated wildly throughout as he contorted himself in preparing for a case involving an attack on a Jewish jeweller. We watched on as the judge spills and trips over his dialogue; muddling between one possible verdict and the next. Moving quickly across the stage, attempting to rationalise the increasingly absurd choice in judgement he was faced with, the scene proved a wonderfully crystalline expression of the panic and paradox during the era.
However, Fear & Misery... did not truly reach its crescendo until City Academy’s penultimate chosen playlet: a haunting reimagining of ‘The Jewish Wife.’ Evans and company eschewed the simple choice of casting a single couple as the husband and wife in this scene. Instead, the two parts are dissected across five different couples. We see this through the chilling realisation of a wife given a coat she won’t need until next winter, yet is supposedly leaving for only two to three weeks, and how it is vocalised across an array of cadences and spaces. Elongated across the stage, this particular stretch seemed to be where the play found its moral centrepiece.
DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:dscm9In these heady, disarming days, it is undoubtedly natural to turn to a playwright that revels in fractious drama like Bertolt Brecht. However, while
While ‘The Judicial Process’ spotlights much of the paradox and pretense existing in
Nazi-Germany, ‘The Jewish Wife’ brought to the fore the domestic fears and ambiguity Germans felt at that time. Sparsely set and harshly lit, as the various couples appear and disappear throughout the scene, it creates a sickly Brechtian sense of ironic foreboding in the audience.
However, while that particular scene through its beautiful delivery gave the audience a very peculiar case of schadenfreude (delivered by an ensemble of Jewish wives), it offers a strong sense that opposition is possible, and always more effective as a collective.
Fear and Misery in the Third Reich ran at Theatre Peckham, 221 Havil St, Camberwell, SE5 7SD from the 9th-11th March.
It was performed by the City Academy Actors Company and included a cast playing over 20 parts:
Directed by Roger Evans
Movement Director: Richard Delaney
Stage Manager: Ollie Langton
Technician: Tyrian Purple