The great Brecht trek
Hmm.. Sounds like a wistful plummet through archives and across seas. However, the reality is far more immediate – and somewhat thrilling (well, for the Theatrical Niche team and audiences in any case!)
We get to take our dynamic and tongue-in-cheek version of what in fact is known as Brecht’s most pessimistic play (cor blimey! But more on this later…) out to the regions of England & Wales – and then in fact to that most glorious of places: Wimbledon town in our beloved Londinium.
However, do not be deceived by this gloomy labelling – the show itself is vibrant, full of questions and dilemmas; and just the type of theatre that hits home with today’s discerning audience. At its heart, Brecht is asking whether despite all odds it is possible to be a good person. Going right down to the bone we can look it simply as pitting Survival against Moral ideals. The real pessimism actually lies in the fact that we still cannot really answer the question once the play is done.. However, perhaps you will think differently.
Setting “The Good Person of Szechwan” in a junk shop in whichever town it is that we are visiting is a clever (and highly Brechtian) device employed by our director, Alice; honing the macro questions to the micro environment. Even though we talk of the impoverished and crowded Szechwan, it is the actors as Cambridge shop employees that are doing so (or Louth, Carmarthenshire etc), inviting the audience (as always with Brecht) to be complicit in the action.
So far, we have toured to some of my favourite spots (I’ve been traipsing about the British countryside for about seven years now in vehicles of varying tour suitability), but happily, we have most of the tour still to come – and indeed, the ever-pleasing prospect of performing in some venues that are totally new to me.
The rest of the cast are incredibly experienced (and rather wonderful too I might add) in their own right, but are fresh to the company. They have offloaded the truck, stayed in random accommodation across the country (I know what you’re thinking but actually it’s only been the one travelodge so far..), tuned up and limbered up with absolutely no niggles. The gorgeous Lucinda Lloyd even tours an ailment-ceasing magic potion containing large chunks of ginger, lemon and goodness knows which other exotic ingredients (probably best not to ask).
Tour life is eccentric. We all sweat a lot. In unlucky instances there will also be an immeasurable amount of snot (sorry guys, it’s over now – I hope). Often, we deliver free puppetry workshops in the afternoon whilst our lighting co-designer deftly jumps around rejigging his design and working out just how much haze the audience can take before we have to put out fog alerts.
It’s all go from get-in to get-out and often beyond if one happens to be driving. Sadly, our hard work (and associated revels) are always short-lived. We rehearse the show for 17 days, run it every time we have a gap, and perform it for only 17 performance days – across several locations.
Road discussions vary from the most recent casting calls to previous dating habits to which farmyard animal you would most like to be. Before the tour is up, we will most likely be able to recite each other’s middle names. We will definitely have passed and commented on those establishments running up and down the A1(M).
All too soon, the tour will draw to a close, and we will start up another artistic and physical journey.
This play though, is irrefutably special and I am so glad we have much of the tour still to come (including the incredible illuminate festival). With Brecht’s episodic drama, we ask questions loudly, deliver the tale dynamically, and take our work as far as we can both geographically and artistically. It is a joyful and diligent endeavour – we very much hope to share it with you; see you here, there and everywhere.