by Charles Marowitz.
White Bear Theatre138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 20 July 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 5.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 June.
Essential viewing for anyone intrigued by German theatre’s brilliant monster.
Playwright, poet and communist Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) cast a spell over European theatre until 1990. In England, it started in 1956, the year he died, when his company the Berliner Ensemble astonished London with its invigorating Brecht productions. It ended when his political aims came crumbling down with the Berlin Wall.
Back in 1942 America, Brecht had struck what Charles Marowitz’s 2006 play calls a capitalist bargain with Eric Bentley, to translate his plays into English (a later Faustian parallel seems more contrived). The playwright gained a new audience, the translator promotion from the ranks of anonymous academics. Derived from Bentley’s The Brecht Memoir (1985), Silent Partners shows Brecht as money-seeking, manipulative and callous towards others. Of course, plenty of nice people never wrote The Caucasian Chalk Circle. There again, neither, perhaps, did Brecht.
British born Bentley, still resident in America, suggested Marowitz, an American who spent years working in English theatre, turn his book into this play. It catches Brecht’s elusiveness, as does Alex Harland from his first calculated entrance in leather jacket, with the young Brecht’s strong features and lean face. The photo on Bentley’s wall shows the chubbier features of Brecht’s later years; it seems fitting he had two faces, reflecting his contradictory personality.
Amid this mix of document and speculation – like many people, Bentley came away from years knowing Brecht without being certain about him – there’s a riveting scene where the playwright and his collaborator Ruth Berlau argue over Chalk Circle’s final scene. In every point Berlau’s right. And in every counter-argument Brecht’s even righter, breaking the rules of dramaturgy to create something more daring and original.
Meanwhile, Brecht’s wife stomps around serving soup. Beside glamorous Berlau she’s the hausfrau, her drudgery preparing her to become the perfect wagon-hauling Mother Courage. But, within minutes, Brecht’s cast Berlau off, leaving her to desolation and electro-convulsive treatment in a Santa Monica clinic.
Jonathon Gibson catches Bentley’s residual Bolton vowels, though he tries too hard to underline his sexuality. Zoë Simon’s Berlau is strong till crushed, Nada Sharp’s taciturn Weigel a more determined character in David Cottis’s well-focused production.
Eric Bentley: Jonathon Gibson.
Army Doctor/Investigator/HUAC Interrogator: Robert Bradley.
Ruth Berlau: Zoë Simon.
Bertolt Brecht: Alex Harland.
Helene Weigel: Nada Sharp.
Hanns Eisler/Lukasch/Radio Announcer/HUAC Chairman: Matt Butcher.
Director: David Cottis.
Designer: Andy Robinson.
Lighting: Richard Hillier.
Music: Jonathan Cohen.