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The Eight Moon Journey


This is one of the trickiest elements of Brecht’s work to get a handle on and, to be quite honest, I struggle with it - and I teach Brecht and will need to try to convey what it is to my actors.

It is the effect of distancing, or strange making (or alienating, but I don’t like that definition because I wouldn’t want to alienate my audience from our play) depending upon the book you read. Brecht gave these examples: to see your mother as a wife you had to acquire a stepfather; to see your teacher as a normal person that suffers as anyone else then you need to see them in the gutter whilst the bailiff takes their belongings – a harsh one that.

A great example from one of Brecht’s own productions was Helen Weigels’ silent scream in ‘Mother Courage’. When presented with the dead body of her son, Courage denies he is her son as an act of self preservation. In Weigel’s performance, when the soldiers leave Courage lets out a long scream, her body tensed, head held facing in the opposite diretion, hands gripping her dress in despair but no sound escapes. This distanced the audience from Courage’s emotional distress, making the scream seem strange and unfamiliar, and so focussed the audience more upon what had happened, why she had found herself in that position - the soicial aspect is brought to the fore.

As a director trying to find ways to create my own V-Effekts, I have to admit it is hard. It is comforting to know that Weigel’s silent scream evolved over a number of performances. In fact it was Weigel who came up with it, but Brecht who got the credit.

One thing to remember is that the V-Effekt was simply a label that Brecht gave much of his work at the end of his career. So when you consider the elements of Epic Theatre – projections, placards, visible lights and costume changes, direct address, breaking the fourth wall, songs, half curtain, visible set changes etc – they all contribute to the creation of the V-Effekt. The very fact the audience watches something self-consciously theatrical makes the process of watching the events portrayed on stage as at a distance. It cannot be just like real life; therefore it is life at a distance.

However there are one or two moments that I want to experiment with in order to try to create some kind of V-Effekt. In ‘Duckling and Harry Go Rowing’, there is a long conversation between the two characters. This could become quite naturalistic, apart from the fact that they are on an empty stage rather than on water and their boat will be made from crates. There is a flow and ebb of emotion in the scene that the actors and audience will not help but latch onto. Therefore I will try having other members of the cast, in pairs, representing the inner emotions of the characters and the shifts in the relationship between Harry and Duckling. This will act as a kind of crash montage, that the audience will see and hear the surface words and emotions and see the deeper thoughts and emotions rather than wonder at what they might really be feeling. This, coupled with the projections, will help to distance the audience rather than latch onto the emotions in the scene.

During ‘The Voyage Out’, Sideway is being whipped. Practically this is difficult as we are in a very small space, so anything short of actual contact will look faked. Then, when contact is made, if it isn’t genuine lashing then that too will look faked. However, considering the fact the actors will have just directly addressed the audience it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look real because that’s what we want the audience to think. Therefore I intend to have Sideway held by his arms, reacting to each lash as if he has passed the point of agony, Clark counting off the lashes and the actor doing the whipping miming having a whip accompanied by the sound effect of a lashing whip. This will hopefully create the V-Effekt through the naturalistic elements fused with the obviously unreal, mimed whip.

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