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The Big Brecht Fest Part 2

Bertolt Brecht
Young Vic
(2007)

Pproduction photo from How Much Is Your Iron?

Where the first two plays in The Big Brecht Fest were polar opposites, this pairing nicely complement each other. They also demonstrate that there is far more to Bertolt Brecht than the well known, full length plays.

How Much Is Your Iron? translated by Enda Walsh in the Claire Studio

This half-hour long parable, first seen on the eve of the Second World War, has shocking resonance.

Dick Bird has set it in some Swedish forest where an iron salesman, Joseph Alford's Svendson, is innocently plying his trade.

It takes a little time to realise that his visitors each have national characteristics, which, under the direction of Orla O'Loughlin, currently riding high with the Hound of the Baskervilles, are played up as comic stereotypes.

Slowly, it dawns on you that these innocent shoppers, first Herr Austrian and then Frau Czech are going to lose their lives, as symbols of countries invaded by The Customer. He is chillingly played by a puffed up Elliot Levey, from the moment that he literally arrives with blood money to the sickening ending.

The case for taking action against evil is strongly but unavailingly put by Herr Britt and Frau Gall since the Swede values his neutrality - and his wealth, above any feelings for humanity.

How Much Is Your Iron? is an excellent short allegory, with echoes at different times of both The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and The Jewish Wife. It will live in the memory for some considerable time, so well is it constructed and so powerful its message.

Senora Carrar's Rifles, translated by Biyi Bandele in the Maria Studio

The second play of the evening, which runs at about twice the length, is also about neutrality in wartime. Senora Carrar's Rifles is based on J M Synge's Riders to the Sea but Brecht has set it in Spain during the civil war.

Paul (Told by an Idiot) Hunter's production is built around an outstanding performance by Sandy McDade in the title role.

She plays a widow who, having lost her husband in battle, will do anything to protect her two teenage sons from a similar fate. The horror of the times is well conveyed, both by Ian Dickinson's soundscape and Aitor Basauri as a ubiquitous tinpot dictator, clearly intended to represent General Franco, who intermittently rants from odd corners of Robert Innes Hopkins' set.

In a series of visits from relations and neighbours, Senora Carrar makes her case for peace. She has a firm belief that if she and her sons stay out of the war, they might be accused of cowardice but they will at least survive.

This hardly fits in with the views of those surrounding her. These include her brother Pedro (played by Richard Katz) who is happy to die for the cause and Jane Guernier's Old Woman Perez, who has to live with the memory of lost children; and even worse, the stigma of one who has gone over to Franco.

The tragic ending of this meditation on the morality of war is inevitable. However, its view of the consequences might be seen as heartening, in a play that Brecht wrote to bolster the spirits of the loyalists as the Spanish Civil War raged and their cause seemed increasingly hopeless.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher