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The Eight Moon Journey


Brecht often used songs in his plays for very specific reasons. Songs were used as a narrative technique in Epic theatre as a means of telling the story, filling the gaps in passages of time, to comment upon the action and as a means of distancing the audience and the actors from what was happening in order to stop them getting carried away with the action.

There is a danger of this in the modern British theatre. This is because the strongest and most commercially successful theatrical style is musical theatre. That means that there is an appetite for songs in an audience that wants to lose themselves in the emotional quick fix of a song or even ignore the key points of a play and simply enjoy a good sing-song. I think, personally, a good example of this is ‘Oh What A Lovely War’ which is a piece of work fashioned in a very Brechtian way but, should the songs be treated as you would a musical, then the audience will be quick to forget they are watching something addressing the horrors of World War One, lose themselves in songs that are sung in the dreaded ‘culinary’ way, enjoyed by the singer and the audience for the song and not its function, and will not relate this to their own experience. I wonder whether an audience clapping along to the reprise of the song ‘Oh What A Lovely War’ at the play’s close has missed the point.

There aren’t any songs in ‘Our Country’s Good’ but I have chosen to include songs for very specific reasons. Firstly, I have to say both the music and the opening has been inspired by a production of ‘The Threepenny Opera’. In this show the actors were also musicians and so played instruments as the songs were sung and during scene changes. I wanted to use this idea but there aren’t songs in the play to utilise the concept. However, as a means of creating a sense of the ‘boxing ring’, that the relationship between the audience and actors is different, I want a folk band to be playing on stage during the build up to the play and some time during the interval. This wasn’t only to simply be entertaining but also to focus audience thoughts – the songs the band sing will be traditional folk songs from the time about transportation and crime and punishment, such as ‘ Botany Bay. There will also be a few modern songs put in to reflect the fact the audience should compare the events to the modern world.

This isn’t a radically new idea and has recently been key components of productions by Kneehigh Theatre. Whereas they used the music as a means of breaking down the fourth wall to create an enjoyable, warm relationship between performers and audience, I want to begin by creating that sense that the show will be fun and thus create a big contrast with that sense of fun and the brutality of the play. By distancing the audience, ensuring they see the actors as actors, they will be more likely to concern themselves with the why of events than the what: they cannot believe that the characters are real, suffering in front of them, and so will consider the message.

Having the live band will help connect with the period, that sense of folk music that the prisoners would have listened to, sung and danced to, and also, on a practical level, will help with the quite tricky transitions between scenes. But there is always that danger of the audience walking in, hearing songs and reacting in a way that we, as an ensemble, don’t want. As such there will be a lot of emphasis upon the acting and staging of the play to ensure the audience don’t trivialise the events simply because there’s a few songs being sung.

Also, being folk music, this would appeal to Brecht’s own sensibilities. He had an affinity with the working classes and downtrodden in society, often reflected in his favouring of their art, such as music, and their language such as the informal language of his plays and the use of proverbs specifically in ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’. So, as a means of slanting the audience’s sympathies towards the convict characters, this should work.

The Final Music

This has been a really pleasing area of our work and a real strength of the final piece. The songs we have chosen and the quality of performance are spot on. I’m indebted to the extra work that Hugh and Brendan have put in, working with Gary our Musical Director, as it is extra workload alongside the nuts and bolts of rehearsing a performance – as well as working full time as amateur actors do. There is also something affecting about live music which really adds further layers to the show, especially the utilising of the fiddle during the scene changes

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