Monday, 12 October 2009

Cultural Interlude

I have to confess that theatre (along with opera, ballet and poetry) is a bit of a black-hole in my cultural life. When I went to see ‘Mother Courage And Her Children’ on Saturday I also admit I went in knowing more about the 30 Years’ War* than I did about Bertold Brecht.
Actually my knowledge of 16th century history was of no real use at all. The play – as I subsequently found out Brecht would have intended – was staged in a way that represented no specific period at all, and all periods. Although I did get a distinct sense of the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia.
To call it is an anti-war piece is an over-simplification - the play suggests that war is in fact the natural order. It seemed to be more concerned about the universal need for ordinary people to simply survive – and their ability to do so. Watching it I was reminded of Hasek’s novel ‘The Good Soldier Svejk’ - and then I found out afterwards that Brecht scripted that novel for the theatre.
I also later found out something about Brecht’s dramatic theories: What often puts me off theatre – and I am conscious of quite how philistine this sounds – is the ‘staginess’ of it. Having grown up on film and television – stage drama can easily just seem too hammy. Particularly so when it is trying to be realistic: In fact the less hard it tries this the more ready I am to accept it – so I will happily sit through Shakespeare but struggle with something that it supposedly more accessible like 'Look Back In Anger'. Brecht’s theory and technique of alienation actually tackles this head-on, and it works. Which is why I found that three and a half hours of fairly heavy-going drama flew by and I was thoroughly engaged.
* It is no coincidence that Brecht chose to reference the 30 Years' War when he wrote the play in 1939. The period 1914-45 - a parallel time of protracted and devastating Total War in Europe - has been called the second 30 Year's War.

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