Friday, 5 April 2019

Resources from and Memories of the 1930s

Years ago, I can't remember precisely when, a touring German theatre company brought their production of Mann ist Mann to the Abbey Theatre.   That production remains one of the best and most exciting and peculiar pieces of theatre I've been fortunate enough to see.  Live music accompanied the performance, and it was all built around one piece of multi-functional set - a structure of slats, walls, panels, doors, boards, which the actors could and did radically alter as they vaulted over it, or ran past it, hitting a panel and turning a wall into a raft, or a door into a cupboard, and thereby creating the next scene.  It was the most dynamic performance imaginable and I was enthralled while also intrigued by it.

The intrigue is important, because of course Mann ist Mann is a play by Bertolt Brecht, maybe the greatest theatre experimenter of the twentieth century and certainly the most sympathetic to the Left.   I don't know as much about contemporary Irish theatre as I should, but I find the notables of that world - Marina Carr, Conor McPherson, Martin McDonagh - terminally boring and uninteresting, in their perennial maundering about myth and the bog of the feminine, or the obsession with monologue, or the easy conceit of bringing Las Vegas to Leenane.  Nothing in their work matches the steely ambition and radicalism of Brecht.

Brecht made his career in the era of Weimar, a brief and extraordinary efflorescence of culture and intellectual innovation, embracing both the political Left and Right in Germany - the Mann brothers, Doblin, Weiroch, Benjamin, Adorno, Bloch, and also Schmitt and Heidegger.  All too quickly, it came to a shattering and brutal end.  The end in Germany helped to bring the end to republican Spain, in a savage civil war whose anniversary passed only a few days ago.   I am posting here three essays from Jacobin: one on Brecht, a resource of hope; and two on the Spanish Civil War, warnings for the bad new days.

First, Marc Silberman

Next, Antonio Maestre

And an interview with Ian Gibson, biographer of Lorca