That Bastard Brecht

David Dunn
Nuworks: Theatre Made in Australia
Paradise in Augustines
to

In the midst of the 1920s, Berlin is a city of sin and centre of the artistic world, filled with the cream of the crop of artists, musicians, cabaret stars and actors.

Elizabeth Hauptmann has recently arrived and is making her mark. Fiercely independent, striving to become a known writer and enter this den of madness and genius, she falls in with playwright Bertolt Brecht and what follow are her recollections of the years until the collaborative collective of his "co-workers" finally fell apart.

With a 5-piece jazz band thundering out musical accompaniment and a cast numbering more than a baker's dozen, the stage is never short of action as the players wheel and dance, and take turns singing in a flashy evocation of the cabaretic throngs of Berlin's bohemian frenzy in the years of the Weimar Republic.

Mark Howard portrays Brecht as an ever-trembling and sweating diminutive titan, alternating between furious outbursts and placatory cajoling as he twists those around him to his whims and takes the credit for much of their output. Indeed, this play is partly the story of the writing of The Threepenny Opera and Hauptmann's willingness to relinquish her hard work to Brecht.

Hauptmann herself, played by Tove Berkhout and Jeanette Dunn as the younger and older incarnations, is one of the few who ever stand up to Brecht in any real way, although in no way does that ever feel like antagonism, as ultimately the antagonism of this tale is the rise of Nazism and the encroaching hostilities towards Jews and other “undesirables” in the city.

It's a bold and exciting musical, one that manages to recapture some of the magic of the era and just enough Brechtian cabaret sensibilities to keep the timely and relevant issues of the piece from being solely a historical point of note. An experience well worth your time.

Graeme Strachan