Sunday, 10 March 2013

Alienation in Weimar

I saw a spine-tingling show in a theatre, the first for many moons. In my experience you have to sit through nine evenings of tedium and mediocrity for every one of such enchantment. But that one in ten just about makes it worth it.

Hauptmann, 'the third man'
The tingly vertebrae were caused by the outstanding skills of a joint Russian and German cast at Weimar National Theatre in the Threepenny Opera (Dreigroschenoper) by Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht and (please excuse me while I tastelessly add the name of the non-Y-Chromosome bearer) ELIZABETH HAUPTMANN. Bert preferred not to make it too public that she had co-written the libretto as well as providing for all three of them the German translation of John Gay’s 18th-century Beggar’s Opera. I wonder if it was Hauptmann who added phrases from Plautus’ comedy Trinummus (“Three-Penny” Comedy) and came up with the German title accordingly.

1931 Movie of Dreigroschenoper
Actors in Central and Eastern Europe are still trained to communicate with their voices and bodies in ways that make their equivalents further west look amateurish: they are gymnasts, dancers, mime artists, athletes, ventriloquists, and the best of them can actually forget their own egos and career trajectories long enough to deliver a seamless ensemble piece. As the crooks, beggars, and whores of Old London, this cast worked their socks off.

The Entfremdung idea in epic theatre, of course, is that you don’t get emotionally involved. You are supposed to be intellectually edified and become a critic of capitalism. I obediently spent the entire evening trying hard not to cry when Polly Peachum found out about rival Lucy’s (fake) pregnancy, and Mac the Knife got sentenced to death. (Mackie  Messer doesn’t sound as scarey, of course). But it was touch-and-go during Pirate Jenny and Mac’s nostalgic tango as they remembered love in the bordello.

Kurt & Bertolt. No gnomesses for sale to represent Elizabeth
After the show, one of the polite  local beggars asked me if I had 50 Pfennigs, or Groschen, or what are now called cents, since he was hungry. Acutely conscious that I had just spent more than one hundred times that amount on three hours in a theatre Criticising Capitalism, I gave him a 5 note. He looked mortifed, fumbled in his pockets and actually apologised because he had insufficient funds to give me 4.50 change (which I had not asked for and did not want).  I do not know whether it was the Alienation Effect or the reality of street life in 2013 which was responsible, but I did not get much sleep that night.

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