Say the word “Brecht” in thespian circles and it’s often immediately followed by faux-sage nods and vacuous allusions to “alienation” and “the fourth wall.” On arriving at this preview I was already prepared to play the part, my mind replete with hastily consumed Wikipedia articles on epic theatre and the Berliner Ensemble which I hoped could be regurgitated in some semblance of informed coherence. I needn’t have worried: the cast I encountered in Magdalen’s Oscar Wilde Room were not concerned with such facade.
The scope of this play is its most thrilling characteristic, as it oscillates wildly between incredibly bleak human tragedy and guffaw-inducing satirical comedy. This heady mix had me transfixed even in the three short scenes I was party to, memorably at the point where the terror and panic of violent revolution was juxtaposed with an awkward proto-chick flick proposal scene.
The use of masked silhouettes and puppetry, as well as a klesmer-style score (composed by Roddy Skeaping), add an aura of mystique, absurdity, and tradition which help to reconcile the polarising emotional shifts.
In a play this all-encompassing, much is demanded from the actors. Luke Rollason (playing the male lead Azdak) and Constance Greenfield (playing Grusha) stand out as particularly impressive in a uniformly strong cast. What strikes you is the open atmosphere in rehearsals; everyone has thought deeply about their role and those of their colleagues and Lazar has encouraged these thoughts to be shared regardless of your importance in the plot. It’s being done exactly in the spirit of the collaborative ensemble acting which Brecht himself did so much to develop.
In short this play has the potential to make you howl with both laughter and tears, the term “emotional rollercoaster” doesn’t really seem to do it justice, and in realising this potent combination Screw the Looking Glass look set for yet another hit. This is not to be missed.