DUNDEE REP THEATRE DUNDEE JUNE 10th 2017
Although this particular performance was within DRE’s home building once a year ambitious DRE head out around Tayside taking productions to village halls, community use buildings etc. This year audiences are to be entertained and challenged by the thought provoking, and strangely concurrent turbulent political climates in certain areas, Bertolt Brecht satirical allegory TRROAU. By dint of this fact the staging was kept simple ergo props had multiple functions, for example a boxed in stage piano also became a table and a coffin at one point. Crates and barrels changed into podiums, or warehouses etc. What might have been an intrusion to concentration as the stage was being very quickly re-arranged, mostly by the cast, was disguised effectively by the use of a “narrator” bringing the audience along as the story accelerated through different time periods. Mood changes were cleverly enhanced with subtle or striking lighting and sound effects. So that is a little background to the production but what of the play itself?
After fleeing his homeland to the safety of Finland Brecht charted the progress of the initial rise to power of Hitler by creating a parallel character Ui as a small time, but would be crime supreme master, and placing him in the late 1920s and 1930s gangster era Chicago.
So the play opens in a rundown Chicago Speakeasy with the nine strong cast members, playing up to twenty eight roles between them, serenading the packed audience with appropriate melodies as the narrator sets the scene and introduces the main characters. Despite the multiple roles being portrayed by the cast it was clear, with concentration, where and how they all fitted in to both sides of the parallel story.
Ui / Hitler was played with increasing chilling power hungry demagogue malevolence by Brian James O’Sullivan as he muscled in on, and eventually took over by all manner of manipulative political skulduggery and violence whilst never actually getting involved in the day to day thuggery himself, the trade in cauliflower and vegetables. Surrounded by all manner of lowlife crooks and villains he, as we are all too aware, got his way plunging the world into the caos of WW2. Billy Mack brilliantly portrayed the initial brutal head enforcer of Ui’s coterie Ernesto Roma (Ernst Rőhm) until he was taken out in The Night Of The Long Knives purge.
I thought it was really clever to gender swap and cast an ice cold Givola (Gőebbels) and the politically naive vulnerability of Dogsborough (Hindenburg) with two wonderful ladies Emily Winter and the ever present DRE member Irene MacDougal respectively. This added a certain element of surprise to the evening quickly subsumed by powerful performances.
Do not think of me as being unfair if I do not individually mention the other cast members but frankly time and space is against me. Suffice it to say each turned in strong interpretations of their allotted characters.
If you only have a general background of history this final body of work for DRE by director Joe Douglas eases you into the powerful story through the narration. Don’t be put off by the subject matter as there is much to enjoy in this fine production through deft use of humour, even if that is also black at times, and music You are left with a realisation that we can unfortunately draw certain contemporary comparisons to our own social and political upheavals and to those countries with whom we have a “special relationship” espousing less than tolerant doctrines. Nothing is certain in this crazy mixed up world. The old adage of “it only takes good men to do nothing for evil to succeed” certainly holds true. I have no clear idea if I am going to get this correct but the final words by which TRROAU ends are I think “though the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again”. We would do well to pay heed to that fact. Catch it while you can.
Graeme Scott K107FM, Blues, Matters Magazine & VRN1287