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The Eight Moon Journey

The Play and Brecht

It is very clear that ‘Our Country’s Good’ is influenced by Brecht. Of course there are elements that wouldn’t be found in Brecht’s own work, and not every well known aspect of Brecht’s work appears in the text, but his influence is there to be seen.

The fact the play deals with social and political issues - crime and punishment; the humanising effect of theatre; notions of civilisation and savagery; ideas of social management and the creation of new societies to name just a few – tells us that we are working in a type of theatre that owes much to Brecht. He is the most famous playwright to place politics and social issues on the stage in such a way that the issue, the message, is more important than the characters themselves.

Within the style of the play there are elements that show the play is essentially Brechtian. The play is written as a montage of scenes. They are numbered and titled and could be taken from the play and performed individually and not lose any sense of the individual scene - they are not reliant upon the rest of the play for context. There is a need for actors to play multiple parts; you could of course have each character played by a different actor but the play is written to accommodate multiple role acting. There is a simplicity to the settings and locations that invite simple Brechtian suggestion of location rather than expansive, complex sets, particularly as there is a need for very quick set changes. Many of the scenes are dialectical in nature – ‘Punishment’, ‘The Authorities Discuss The Merits of the Theatre’, ‘The Meaning of Plays’ etc - which requires a style of acting that can clearly convey the different aspects of those discussions clearly, without the audience being sidetracked.

Taking this into account I have chosen to make our production even more ‘Brechtian’ where possible. Although there isn’t any music present in the text, music is going to play an important part in our production. At the start of the play there will be a group of actors playing instruments and singing songs. These instruments will also be played between scenes as part of the scene transitions. Actors will be interacting with the audience before the show, finding their views upon the themes of the play. We will be using costumes that will simply suggest character, especially the officers, rather than look to having a more realistic style of costume. Costume changes will be performed in front of the audience. The set will also suggest location rather than any kind of realistic setting. The auditorium will be filled with slogans that will be designed to keep the audience’s mind focussed upon the message of the play. There will be a screen upon which images and text will be projected to compliment the action of the play.

The actors will be seeking to try to act using a Gestic style of acting as much as possible, therefore a lot of our work in rehearsal will be focussed upon finding a Grund Gestus for our production, locating the gest of a scene and then communicating this while trying to subordinate the emotions of scenes to the message. This is going to be difficult as in ‘Our Country’s Good’ there are scenes of obvious emotion which we will need to work hard to help both the audience and actors from becoming too involved and absorbed in those emotions.

The different areas of focus will be split up around the site and you will be able to see what the thinking is behind the decisions, the development during rehearsals and how those ideas change as the production evolves – sometimes through the discovery of better ideas; sometimes because of the realities of cost and time factors of creating theatre.

26/08/06 At this rehearsal we spent some time discussing what we thought are the most important themes in the play. This, obviously, left us with a large list of themes. The next step was to whittle this down so, through some lengthy discussion, the actors had to decide upon the three most important themese; the three key ideas they want to communicate to the audience. Once done they then had to fiormulate a statment that covered the themes and their communication to the audience, alongside the actors' intentions with the play itself - why perform it? How do they want the audience to react? All the while I, as director, was playing devil's advocate, suggesting how society today has very different concerns to the characters in the play and also the society that would have first seen 'Our Country's Good'.

Out of this process we arrived at a statement that covers what we plan to do with the play, how we want to tackle it and how we want our audience to, hopefully, react. This statement reads:

'An analysis of the binding forces of civilsation and its greatest expressions: justice and theatre. Does civilisation shape human nature or does human nature shape civilisation?'

Thus we have arrived at our Grund Gestus - whatever we do during rehearsals, whenever we are unsure of where the play can go, we can look back at this statement. Also, interestingly, we have posed ourselves a dialectical question - 'Does civilisation shape human nature or does human nature shape civilisation?' - and it must be remembered that Brecht was interested in Marxist Dialectics, so that really helps us to feel we are woorking in the right way.


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