“Terrible is the seductive power of goodness” is the message flashed up in neon lights high up at the back of the stage. Grusha is the servant girl who is faced with the dilemma of doing good by rescuing and protecting a helpless baby at the expense of her reputation, personal safety and happiness. Written just after World War 2, Bertolt Brecht’s play examines the chaos and aftermath of war and people’s struggle to live and love in the face of uncaring oppression.
Brecht was a playwright with a message but he didn’t want to use a hectoring tone and bore his audience. Instead he used a mix of comedy, music and songs to lighten the serious drama. This play, along with other Brecht works such as Mother Courage and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, are staples of literary study courses but there is nothing to compare with seeing them performed live. With a new translation by Alistair Beaton, Mark Thomson and his creative team and players have come up trumps with this production.
The main story is a parable, a play within a play. The Governor is fleeing the City with his wife (Jon Trenchard) who is more concerned with saving her fancy clothes than her baby son, Michael. The baby is found by Grusha (Amy Manson) and she embarks on a journey to save the boy from the vengeful soldiers and keep him for herself.
Puppeteer Adam Bennett brings baby Michael to life with some simple but stunning visual and audio effects. I challenge you not to join in the collective “aww” from the audience when he takes his first tentative toddling steps towards his adoptive mother. There are fine performances from all the actors, particularly from Christopher Fairbank who plays Azdak and other characters. You are sure to recognise Fairbank’s craggy features from countless theatre, film and TV performances. Sarah Swire looks and sounds superb as the Singer, who provides continuity and narrative throughout the play. The talented and versatile cast also double up as musicians on stage.
It takes a little time to warm up and get going with its prologue and concept of play within a play. I mean warm up both literally and figuratively – someone must have left the doors open in the theatre last night as it was blowing an icy gale through the auditorium. The wind machine blowing snow across the stage as Grusha battles her way through the mountains was hardly needed. However the overall energy and liveliness of the production soon banished the shivers.
And finally to the chalk circle itself – it is revealed as a device used by Azdak to determine the true mother of the child. Reminiscent of the biblical story of the justice of Solomon, the child is placed within the circle and each woman must attempt to pull him out. Grusha refuses to pull as she does not want to hurt the child and is therefore shown as the one who truly loves him. All ends happily and good triumphs over evil.
This is an excellent night at the theatre – I highly recommend it to you.