THE DAYS OF THE COMMUNE
by Bertolt Brecht translated by Clive Barker and Arna Reinfrank.
White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ to 30 October 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 6pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 October.
Little-known Brecht play reclaimed by vibrant production.
This play, only seen professionally in Britain from the Royal Shakespeare Company in their Brecht-phase, at the Aldwych in 1977, is a delight for followers of American scholar John Fuegi, who, in the 1990s, told everyone Brecht wrote little of the plays bearing his name, preferring to farm the work out to his admiring women collaborators.
Two of whom had a role here. Ruth Berlau introduced Brecht to Nordahl Grieg, the Norwegian writer whose 1937 The Defeat lies behind Days, while Margarette Steffin did the German translation.
That RSC mainstage production was an arid affair, but it’s not just the greater intimacy of the tiny White Bear that makes Genevieve Girling’s production for Gunpowder theatre aptly explosive. The Days of the 1871 Paris Commune are no longer a political history lecture. They are with us again.
Everyone or no-one is the final message: the group matters more than the individual if the interests of the poor are to be protected. Prussia beat France hollow in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, but when France’s leaders surrendered, making sure they’d be all right, the workers of Paris established a commune of equals, with the right to life, freedom – as individuals and in association with others – and freedom of expression.
Like the recent student protesters, and the anti-capitalist camp that is accidentally questioning whether St Paul’s Cathedral is geared more toward God or Mammon these days (the French archbishop of the play doesn’t come over sympathetically), it is the group purpose that matters.
From early on, the French and German governments seem as hand-in-glove as banks and governments today. And it’s easy to guess which side the Bank is on, putting up barriers to paying the communards but sending instant funds to their opponents.
If there are some strained performances, there are many that are strong and clear. Against a landscape of Paris blotched with patches of fire (surprisingly, no designer’s credited) moments of exhilaration, of treachery and urgent debate express the Communards’ vitality, between dates and locations chalked up to guide audiences through the days of a brief, brave social experiment.
Madame Cabet: Maxine Howard.
Jean Cabet: Dimitri Shaw.
François Faure: Paul Davidson.
Philippe Faure: Alex Forward.
Papa Goule: Gary Heron.
Gustave: Drew Davies.
Pierre Langevin: Rupert Ratcliffe.
Geneviève Guéricault: Alicia Ambrose-Bayly.
Babette Cherron: Jessica Fay.
Chorus: Naomi Cooper, Theo Devaney, Paul Easom, Kayleigh Hawkins, Kath Perry, Steve Wickenden.
Director: Genevieve Girling.
Lighting/Costume: Sarah Cogan.
Sound: Eleonora Christodoulou.
Music: Georges Kaplan Presents.