IN THE JUNGLE OF CITIES
by Bertolt Brecht translated by Gerhard Nellhaus.
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 1) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 5 October 2013.
7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 28 Sept 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 September.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Strong revival gauges the temperature of one of theatre’s coldest plays.
1922 was a cerebral year, with Ulysses from James Joyce and T S Eliot’s The Wasteland. And Bertolt Brecht was writing this play, arguably the most puzzling by any major dramatist. Even the prologue tells people not to try and understand.
It’s an unexplained contest between librarian George Garga and lumber-merchant Shlink, the sinister foreigner (casting a Black actor as a “yellow” ethnic character is smart; expressing yet drawing the sting of the period’s racism).
Shlink and his henchmen slither into Garga’s life like night-time creatures through a firepalce. His main weapon is to give Garga control over his business, recalling Bernard Shaw’s Boss Mangan in Heartbreak House, who declares the best way to ruin a man who doesn’t understand money is to give him lots.
Here, it’s not just money. Shlink corrupts Garga with power; Jeffery Kissoon’s sinister figure slumps at the shoulders and goes subservient of voice as he declares himself Garga’s slave. It’s not long before Garga has committed the act that will pursue him to prison, while Shlink’s depredations rage through Garga’s womenfolk.
There are pre-echoes of things Brecht would revisit when he’d shored up the chaos of his mind with Marxism. The idea of external forces changing an individual’s identity would recur in an army setting with Man in Man and, from a different angle, in the interchangeable role of Young Comrade in The Measures Taken. That play was staged as a boxing match. So is this, in eleven ‘rounds’ announced by a bow-tied presenter.
The Threepenny Opera’s conclusion that the world is dark and cold follows from Jungle, certainly in Peter Sturm’s production where a bare set is littered with individual pages as Garga sleeps among them. Any sense of scholarly interest is confined to his boss Maynes.
Joseph Arkley goes with the corruption that absolute freedom brings within the anonymous city. It’s a corrupting, transgendering transformation showing no aspect of an individual is fixed. Like Brecht’s first play Baal it’s a cruel attack on ideals of freedom which permeated German dramatic tradition. And with the Nazis already on the move, it was prophetic.
Mr Preacher/Reporter/Waiter: Joseph Adelakun.
George Garga: Joseph Arkley.
Skinny/Manky: Alex Briton.
Shlink: Jeffery Kissoon.
Maynes/John Garga/Salvation Army: Stephen O’Toole.
Worm: Jurgen Schwarz.
Baboon: Michael Walters.
Jane Larry/Salvation Army: Mia Austen.
Mary Garga: Rebecca Brewer.
Mrs Garga/Salvation Army/Bar Woman: Helen Sheals.
Director: Peter Sturm.
Designer: Nicolai Hart-Hansen.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Mike Furness.