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After Brecht: British Epic Theater
 9780472084081, 0472084089, 9780472103218, 0472103210

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After Brecht

THEATER: Theory/Text/Performance E n o c h B ra te r, Series E d ito r University o f Michigan

A round the Absurd: Essays on Modern and Postmodern Drama ed ited b y E n o c h B r a te r and R u b y C o h n Tom Stoppard and the Craft o f Com edy: M edium and G enre at Play b y K a th e rin e E . K e lly Performing Drama /D ram atizing Performance: Alternative Theater and the Dramatic Text by M ic h a e l V a n d en H e u v e l The Plot of the Future: Utopia and Dystopia in Modern Drama by D ra g a n K laic Shaw ’s Daughters: Dramatic and Narrative Constructions o f G ender b y j . E lle n G a in o r How Dramas E n d : Essays on the German S tu rm un d D ra n g , Büchner, Hauptm ann, and Fleisser by H en ry J . S c h m id t Critical Theory and Performance e d ited b y J a n e lle R e i n e l t and Jo s e p h R . R o a c h T he Actor’s Instrument: Body, Theory, Stage by H o llis H u sto n Acting as Reading: T he Place o f the Reading Process in the Actor’s Work by D a v id C o le Presence and Resistance: Postmodernism and Cultural Politics in Contemporary American Performance by P h ilip A u slän d er Ionesco's Imperatives: T he Politics o f Culture by R o s e t t e C . L a m o n t The Theater o f Michael Vinaver b y D a v id B ra d b y Rereading Molière: M ise en Scène from Antoine to Vitez b y J i m C a rm o d y O 'N e ill’s Shakespeare b y N o rm a n d B e rlin Postmodern Theatric(k)s: Monologue in Contemporary American Drama by D e b o ra h R . G eis The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science o f Acting b y Jo s e p h R . R o a c h Theater at the Margins: Text and Post-Structured Stage b y E r ik M a c D o n a ld To Act, To D o, To Perform : Drama and the Phenomenology o f Action b y A lice R a y n e r Tom Stoppard in Conversation e d ited b y Pau l D e la n e y After Brecht: British Epic Theater b y J a n e lle R e in e lt Directing Beckett b y L ois O p p e n h e im Susan Glaspell: Essays on H er Theater and Fiction ed ited b y L in d a B e n - Z v i T he Theatrical Gamut : Notes fo r a Post-Beckettian Stage e d ited b y E n o c h B ra te r Staging Place : Tlte Geography o f M odem Drama b y U n a C h a u d h u ri The Aesthetics o f Disturbance: A nti-A rt in Avant-Garde Drama b y D a v id G ra v er Toward a Theater o f the Oppressed: T he Dramaturgy o ffo h n Arden by J a v e d M a lic k Theater in Israel e d ited by L in d a B e n - Z v i Crucibles o f Crisis: Performing Social Change e d ited b y J a n e lle R e in e lt

After Brecht British Epic Theater

J a n e l l e R e in e l t

Ann Arbor

T h e U n iv e r s it y


M ic h ig a n P r e s s

First paperback edition 1 9 9 6 C opyright © by the University o f M ichigan 1 9 9 4 All rights reserved Published in the U nited States o f Am erica by T he University o f M ichigan Press M anufactured in the U nited States o f Am erica ©

Printed on acid-free paper









N o part o f this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, m echanical, or otherwise, w ithout the written permission o f the publisher. A C IP catalog record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in Publication Data R ein elt, Janelle G. After B recht : British epic theater / Janelle R einelt. p.

c m .— (Theater— th eory/text/p erform an ce)

Includes bibliographical references and index. ISB N 0 - 4 7 2 - 1 0 3 2 1 - 0 1. English drama— 2 0th century— H istory and criticism. 2. Socialism and literature— Great Britain— History— 20th century. 3. Socialism and theater— Great Britain— History— 2 0th century. 4. Political plays, English— H istory and criticism. 5. Epic literature, English— H istory and criticism. 6. B recht, B ertolt, 1 8 9 8 -1 9 5 6 — Influence. 7. English drama— G erm an influences. I. Title. II. Series. P R 7 3 9 .S 6 2 R 4 5


822V 91 4 0 9 3 5 8 — d c20

9 4 -1 7 6 1 3 C IP

ISB N 0 - 4 7 2 - 0 8 4 0 8 -9 (pbk. : alk. paper) Grateful acknowledgm ent is made to the following publishers and journals for permission to reprint previously published material. Garland Publishing, Inc., for portion o f “David Hare: Social Gestus in Private Scenes,” which originally appeared in an essay on David H ares Fanshen in David H are:A Casebook, edited by Hirsch Zeifman (Garland Publishing, Inc., N ew York, 1994). Pacific Coast Philology for “Howard Brenton: Gestus in Public Spaces,” which originally ap­ peared as “B ertolt B recht and Howard B ren ton :T h e C om m o n Task” in Pacific Coast Philology 20, no. 1 - 2 (N ovem ber 1985). University o f Iowa Press for “Edward Bond: Parables for our Tim es,” which first appeared as “T heorizing U topia: Edward B ond s W ar Plays” in The Performance o f Power: Theatrical Dis­ course and Politics, edited by Sue-Ellen Case and Janelle R ein elt (University o f Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1991).


W hen I first began the research for this book I approached the writ­ ers included here with considerable trepidation and insecurity. "You don't know me, but I am an American academic with socialist convic­ tions, and I would like to talk to you about your work in connection to Brecht." Sure. They'll say no, I thought—why shouldn't they? To my surprise, not only did they agree to talk to me, but they talked passionately and with interest, even when disagreeing with my the­ sis, as David Hare did, or when suffering from back trouble, as Tre­ vor Griffiths and Howard Brenton were, or from interview reticence, as Caryl Churchill was. Elizabeth and Edward Bond invited me to their house repeatedly, and Jill and Trevor Griffiths put me up. These conversations were invaluable, because their intelligence and inci­ siveness contributed to my formulation of the argument presented here. I am so grateful for their contributions to the project and their personal kindness to me. This book has a marked personal voice, which intrudes from time to time on the conventional "objectivity" of such a study. But since I don't believe that scholarly work is ever without a perspective, a politics, I'm not too worried about that part: I'd rather my readers know who I am and where I stand. There are many other people who helped with this project. My love and thanks to Ruby Cohn for guidance and support and for helping me make my first important trip to England a reality; to Ruby, Stan Garner, and Bill Worthen for incisive critiques of earlier versions of the manuscript, and to John Rouse and J. Pat Rice for reading specific chapters; to Bill Gaskill for his friendship and a gen­ erous amount of time spent talking; to Tracy Martin and Chris Woolsey, my student assistants; to David Whitton and Dean Busick for helping me obtain needed materials on the other side of the Atlan­ tic; to LeAnn Fields, my editor at University of Michigan Press, who



kept encouraging me; and to Claire Reinelt, my daughter, and Rick Alterman, her husband, John Rouse, David Román, and C. Willard Haynes III, who offered technical assistance when my computer quit.




Chapter 1. Howard Brenton: Gestus in Public Spaces 2. Edward Bond: Parables for Our Times

17 49

3. Caryl Churchill: Socialist Feminism and Brechtian Dramaturgy 81 4. David Hare: Social Gestus in Private Scenes


5. Trevor Griffiths: Counterpoint to a Brechtian Aesthetic 6. John McGrath: Brecht and the Popular Tradition Conclusion Notes







The Brechtian legacy to contemporary British drama is twofold: it has provided playwrights and other theater workers with stimulating ideas, models of dramaturgy—even aggravating anecdotes—in rela­ tion to which they have carved out their own theatrical identities, and it also provides a theory of political theater, a framework of ideas through which critics and audience members can look at contempo­ rary works in order to understand how they function (politically) in relation to other contemporary works and to those of their predeces­ sors. Brecht's dramaturgy was able to do this, to become a "legacy," because the postwar situation in Britain was hospitable to, or compat­ ible with, epic theater practices, accommodating a space for political opposition in theatrical representation that produced a hybrid British form of recognizably Brechtian theater—sometimes when the rela­ tionship to Brecht was unconscious or even hotly contested. This ]book describes the various ways in which Brecht's work has proved useful for playwrights with leftist social commitments, and will also examine issues involved in attempting to forge a political theater appropriate to a particular time and place. Although many useful applications of epic theater strategies and techniques mark the work of British Leftist writers over the last thiry years, significant extensions, transformations, and even abandonments also character­ ize these plays and productions. While emphasizing the importance and positive contribution of Brecht, I also wish to foreground the hybridity of the theatrical styles that evolved during this period. To begin, a series of observations on the politics of location: like many American theater critics, I have long been fascinated by what we haven't got at home—a committed and successful political theater movement. Year after year I have marveled and applauded the plays of Trevor Griffiths, Edward Bond, and the other British writers dis-


After Brecht

cussed here, lamenting the dearth of similarly incisive and provoca­ tive leftist theater in the United States. What conditions in Britain made such theater possible? Subsidy helps and is an easy place to start looking for differences between national arts policies in Britain and the United States. But pointing to subsidy is a facile gesture unless accompanied by a Frankfurt school-style analysis of the al­ most total commodification of theatrical representation in the United States, where, moreover, live theater always sits in the shadow of TV and films. Not that Britain exists as some kind of alternative arts utopia; British theater is itself commodified for U.S. tourism. More­ over, the deadly couple of Reagan and Thatcher seriously eroded whatever government support the arts enjoyed in both countries. That the dismantling of national subsidies in Britain has been so monumental and so destructive is, ironically, an indication of its im­ portance in the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, precisely because theater was able to act as a force of cultural resistance to Thatcherism, it was recognized as a threat to be deliberately brought to heel. Money does talk and unfortunately, usually in a reactionary idiom.1 Equally important for an understanding of Britain as a site of political theater, however, is the discursive space available to the theater and other cultural forms. The British political spectrum has included parties of the Left and popular movements more openly and fully than has the United States. The Marxist vocabulary of class analysis and economism has enjoyed public parlance in Britain, while in the United States such rhetoric has always been regarded suspi­ ciously and any form of socialism anathema. While the Democratic and the Labour parties display meaningful similarities in terms of their historical emphasis on working people and social programs, the Labour Party has called itself a socialist party, while in the United States Democrats are always ducking that disparaging epitaph. In international affairs Britain has had the continual problem of Ireland, that perennial reminder of an imperialism that will not be hidden or, it seems, ever effectively transformed.2 In the United States the Viet­ nam War brought a radical challenge to our ideology, but it has been historically overshadowed by the many "Cold War" events, such as the Cuban missile crisis and the Iranian hostage situation. The United States Right masked issues of imperialism under superpower antago­ nisms, silencing the rhetoric of imperial critique in favor of the lan­ guage of a democratic defense of individual freedom and free enter-



prise. Aesthetics has followed ideology in the United States; realism, that structural support for bourgeois individualism, has dominated theatrical representation more fully than anywhere else on the globe. No wonder Brecht never took root here. The distinctions I have been drawing between political and aes­ thetic location, however, are too broad and serve to obscure the field of difference within the British context itself. Britain had maintained a relatively stable political situation which is usually referred to as the "Postwar consensus" (this is what Margaret Thatcher is reputed to have destroyed). Although Labour is a "socialist" party and certain principles of socialism such as public ownership, universal welfare, and full employment mark the postwar consensus, in fact Britain has mostly functioned as a social democracy with a mixed economy. The differences between the two parties, Labour and Conservative, have not always been perceived as very significant. In 1977 60 percent of British voters thought there was "much of a muchness" between the two parties.3 While there were certainly practical vocabularies that marked differences, the material effects of government on the lives of people were remarkably stable: "Up to 1979, Labour and Conserva­ tives had alternated in power in equal measure. Each successive ad­ ministration was therefore able to (and showed itself eager to) cancel the more original and radical legislation of its predecessors."4 This climate created the space for voices of opposition and resistance along both conservative and radical axes ("militant" Labour and "re­ actionary Tories"); in leftist cultural production it opened up the rep­ resentation of Britain as not-nearly-socialist-enough. The rhetorical tools for this critique were already available within the discursive patterns of the public sphere. Stuart Hall has written extensively about Margaret Thatcher's strategies for overturning the postwar consensus by manipulating the terms of discourse available to various constituencies: "[Thatcherism] has changed the currency of political thought and argument. Where previously social need had begun to establish its own imperatives against the laws of market forces, now questions of Value for money,' the private right to dis­ pose of one's own wealth, the equation between freedom and the free market, have become the terms of trade, not just of political debate in parliament, the press and the journals, and policy circles, but in the thought and language of everyday calculation."5 Opposi­ tional cultural practices that developed during a period of relatively


After Brecht

moderate and stable governments (during the 1960s and 1970s) were actively engaged in and finally severely disabled by the 1980s battle with Thatcherism. In the 1990s, the challenge will be to examine and transform oppositional discourse in light of the historic changes in the East and the devastating years of conservative hegemony at home. In the various chapters, and directly in the last chapter, I will suggest how this transformation is beginning to take place in theatri­ cal representation. The end of the Cold War, the devastation and long-term effects of Margaret Thatcher's domestic policies, and the emergence of diverse new perspectives in the wake of postcolonial and multicultural critiques have destabilized the English epic tradi­ tion. Indeed, these seismic changes are indicative of the major rea­ sons why the "fittingness" of Brechtian dramaturgy for the British situation has changed or slipped. It has, to borrow from Brecht, "been overtaken by the course of history, and is subject to criticism from the immediately following period's point of view."6 It is perhaps easy to see why Britain has provided hospitable ground for the development of Brechtian dramaturgy when compared to the United States. A comparative look at postwar Brecht reception in Germany provides another kind of gloss on Britain. I would not argue that Brecht provides a greater legacy to Britain, but I do think the nature of the fit has been less problematic than in Brecht's own home­ land. Brecht's most immediate heirs are often thought to be Ger­ man—Heiner Müller is the most obvious example—in fact, however, various differing resistances in both former East and West Germany created a climate in which Brecht was almost begrudgingly accepted rather than embraced. The reception of Brecht within his own coun­ try is much too complex to be accurately accounted for here; one can say, however, that, while West Germans were engaged in a process of trying to overcome their Nazi past with an emphasis on universal and humanistic values, East Germans found Brecht overly formalistic in an era of Soviet realism.7 In the 1960s, when a new generation of young directors in West Germany recognized and canonized Brecht, "Brecht-fatigue" set in; he became old hat almost immediately. The plays became museum pieces or culinary entertainments; the real legacy moved to the directing styles of the next generation (e.g., Peter Stein and Peter Zadek). Meanwhile, East Germany turned Brecht into an official classic



and used him as an establishment example against the experimental work of new, young theater workers. As Klaus Volker wrote in 1987, "While Brecht has been reduced to pure entertainment in the West, his theatre has become a party organ in the East."8 Actually, East Germany was not an appropriate place to develop theater that was primarily anticapitalist in form and content. East German play­ wrights, to be resistive, to be progressive, needed to shift their work toward a critique of a failing socialism. The role of the individual, the psychic construction of the subject under really existing socialism (as distinct from theoretical, or textbook, socialism), became a pressing concern in ways that were truly incompatible with a Brechtian drama­ turgy, which structurally resisted representation of the interior of selves. Of course, Heiner Muller's early work shows the imprint of Brecht's theater—Cement most clearly; Hamletmachine, Medea Frag­ ments, and Quartet, however, responded to Muller's concrete histori­ cal situation in ways that were only Brechtian in a loose sense. Brecht's plays and much of his theoretical writings require capitalist conditions of production and social organization in order to do their work of unmasking ideology. The former West Germany and the United States domesticated or simply foreclosed Brecht; the British were able to use him more productively.9 I disagree with Sue-Ellen Case, who has written recently that the "international trade" in Brechtian strategies has led to an abstraction of Brecht's techniques from their historical and material conditions, "importing strategies specific to the German context into the British one."10 While she writes specifically about feminist uses of Brecht, the general point is that a local and historical meaning should not be promiscuously applied to other countries and contexts. On the con­ trary, the Brechtian strategy of historicizing both Brecht and the Brit­ ish theater leads to clarification by juxtaposition. What has hap­ pened in Britain is specific and local to its own material conditions, but it is illuminated through reference to the Brechtian legacy. Brecht's oeuvre, too, sometimes appears differently in light of the unique inflections and modifications of a different time and place.11

Brecht and Britain When trying to fix a date to the beginning of the Brecht-and-Britain connection, a number of important occurences converge involving


After Brecht

the general political climate, the emergence of indigenous theatrical work made possible by that climate, and direct exposure to Brecht. Between 1945 and 1960 Britain was building its postwar consensus, which involved full employment; strong central government; health, education, and welfare reforms; and strong trade unions.12 Conserva­ tives and Labour struck a bargain in which the Right agreed to live with social programs and Keynesian economic policies, while the Left accepted modified capitalism and identification with the strategic interests of the Western bloc against Soviet interests. This consensus established the discursive field within which cultural production would operate. The Arts Council was established in 1946, and its subsidy grew rapidly through this period.13 By 1956 this sociopolitical climate empowered a generation of working- and middle-class playwrights, the so-called kitchen sink writers (many of whom were educated as a result of the Education Act of 1944). Look Back in Anger, surely established as the debut of this new movement, serves as a marker for playwrights, subject matter, and venue. (It was produced at the Royal Court, where so many new writers would work.) Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in work­ ing-class East End London produced new work as well as revisionist classics, and Littlewood herself produced Brecht's Mother Courage in that same landmark year (1956). Within a few years the large state-subsidized theaters, the Na­ tional Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), were in the process of being established.14 The RSC (1961), under Peter Hall, collected Peter Brook and Michel St. Denis, while the National The­ atre began when Lawrence Olivier was appointed first artistic direc­ tor in 1962. He asked William Gaskill and John Dexter to be associate directors and Kenneth Tynan, who early-on promoted Brecht in his journalism, to be literary manager. In fact, in each of the four major theaters of this period key leadership figures came to champion and emulate Brechtian theater. In A Sense of Direction William Gaskill re­ calls George Devine's excitement, after visiting Berlin, about Brecht's design techniques (Devine was the artistic director of the Royal Court and Jocelyn Herbert the key designer). Gaskill also chronicles the visit to Berlin of the newly appointed artistic staff of the National (the Oliviers, Dexter, Tynan, Gaskill): "We were unanimous in our admi­ ration for the work, perhaps for different reasons. We believed that it set a standard to be emulated, but we never theorized as to how



this was to be achieved."15 When combined with the Brechtian eye for staging, which Peter Brook incorporated into his work at the RSC, and Joan Littlewood's Brechtian experiments based on indige­ nous political and working-class aesthetics, it should be clear that the British appropriation of epic style and techniques constituted a strong element in theatrical productions of the period and in the years to come. The Berliner Ensemble performed in London for the first time— also in 1956—at the Palace Theatre, presenting Mother Courage, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and Drums and Trumpets. The production and playing styles, the conceptual apparatus as embedded in the mise-enscene, and the role of music in the productions were apparent even to those in the audiences who knew no German and so couldn't follow the text. As Martin Esslin has pointed out, the Berliner Ensem­ ble became a living example of what subsidized theater could be and do and silenced critics who insisted that state-subsidized theaters became artistically sterile: "So Brecht became the focal point, the rallying cry of the younger generation of theatrical artists who had realized that the future of the theater as a serious vehicle for ideas, enlightenment, and beauty depended on the recognition that the commercial system was no longer able to provide the basis for viable drama."16 Martin Esslin, however, writing in 1969, did not really believe that a Brechtian influence mattered much in Britain. Emphasizing the lack of texts available in English, and the lack of understanding of Brecht's work, Esslin felt the British basically missed Brecht, since for Esslin Brecht's greatest attribute was his "mastery of the German language, his stature as a major poet."17 In fact, this early article is rather curious for, while Esslin sweepingly dismisses the post-1956 era as possessing "few valid productions of Brecht, little genuine knowledge about Brecht, and hence little evidence of any influence of Brecht's actual work and thought,"18 it goes on to document an aston­ ishing amount of important work appearing in those years. William Gaskill, for example, directed productions of Mother Courage, Baal The Recruiting Officer, and The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The Ensemble came back for a second visit in 1965 with Aurturo Ui, Coriolanus, The Threepenny Opera, The Days of the Commune, and excerpts from Mahagonny. Within a decade most of the important Brecht plays had been produced at major venues, and two exemplary visits of the


After Brecht

Ensemble demonstrated epic style and working methods.19 In fact, Esslin himself writes, "As far as design is concerned, practically all British stage design, outside the area of the most old-fashioned draw­ ing-room comedy, today derives from the work of the main Brechtian designers, Neher, Otto, and von Appen."20 And in 1964 John Willett's tremendously important translation of Brecht's theoretical writings became widely available. As will be clear from the following chapters, many of the playwrights under discussion here report see­ ing little Brechtian work, but almost all had read and thought about and talked about John Willett's Brecht on Theatre. There are many ways to leave a legacy. Three Brechtian dramaturgical concepts recur with persistent fre­ quency in the work of the socialist playwrights discussed here; in fact, they constitute the "essential Brecht." These three practices— gestus, epic structure, and historicization—transform the nature, rhetoric, and ideology of theater. The Alienation effect (Verfremdungs­ effekt, or A-effect) is produced by the combination of these three. Treating it separately can lead to a formalist understanding of Brecht, for the distancing of the A-effect may not always be sociopolitical, while the effect produced by the interaction of gest, epic techniques, and historicization is, fundamentally, sociopolitical. Alienation im­ plies the necessity of economic, material, and ideological recognition. It is more accurate to say that all four of these features must occur together to insure the desired political reading.21 A hungry beggar eats soup differently from a wealthy king. An individual actor develops the proper gestus for eating, which reveals her/his character's relation to the social and political power structure. Brecht gives the audience a lesson in gestus in The Caucasian Chalk Circle when Azdak gives the Grand Duke a lesson on how to eat his cheese like a poor man. Gestus can also apply to a scene, and the director can stage it to produce awareness of a socially typical action. Mother Courage bargains for silver and loses her son in the same gesture. The model book as well as the text gives the central gestus of the scene, in which the sale of the belt buckle carries the price tag of Eilif's freedom. Brecht wrote about the nature of the gestus that "not all gests are social gests. The attitude of chasing away a fly is not yet a social gest, though the attitude of chasing away a dog may be one, for instance if it comes to represent a badly dressed man's continual battle against watchdogs. . . . the social gest is the gest rele­



vant to society, the gest that allows conclusions to be drawn about the social circumstances."22 This is, then, both a concern about con­ tent and about form: while the content of a social gest may transform itself over time, be different in varying moments of history, the goal of presenting the social relationship economically and clearly onstage remains. Experimentation and constant revision will enable the par­ ticularly appropriate gestus to emerge.23 Brecht himself defined his theater as epic then overthrew this nomenclature for the appellation "dialectical theater." Nevertheless, we know the Brechtian theater as an epic theater, and many British theater workers also think about their own tradition as epic (some­ times including Shakespeare, whose work is often said to be epic and whose interest and importance for Brecht is obvious). The wellknown Brecht essay "The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre" con­ tains a famous chart contrasting "dramatic" and "epic" theater. Still, it leaves a lot to be desired as an adequate explanation of the differ­ ences, since it is structured on bipolar high contrasts that do not literally hold (e.g., the opposition between plot and narrative breaks down in most of Brecht's own plays, which do possess fairly elabo­ rate plot structures). I prefer Brecht's description of the craft of epic writing in "A Short Organum": As we cannot invite the audience to fling itself into the story as if it were a river and let itself be carried vaguely hither and thither, the individual episodes have to be knotted together in such a way that the knots are easily noticed. The episodes must not succeed one another indistinguishably but must give us a chance to interpose our judgment.24 This is the critical Brechtian description of dramaturgical structure, containing the rationale and the specifications for most of the British work I would call epic. It also distinguishes this structuring from "dramatic," or realist, structure, which is usually seamless rather than knotted, invisible rather than visible. Even Shakespeare's epi­ sodes do not always show these "knots." They are an image both of the workmanship, the constructedness, of the play and also of the knots-to-be-undone—i.e., of social and historical contradictions and sticking points to be examined and clarified in the text or production.


After Brecht

In a sense all epic plays are history plays; it's just that some deal with the contemporary historical moment and others with the past. To "historicize the incidents of the narrative" as Brecht would have playwrights do is probably the single most important aspect of epic writing, because it involves situating the events within a context that both explains them and yet is not necessary (i.e., it could have been otherwise). Leftist theater—indeed, all politically committed the­ ater—must represent the possibility for change. In order to do so it must represent the particularities of the situation in time and space, the power dynamics operating in and on this situation, and the ideo­ logical formations that govern the field of discourse. Feminism and the other postmodern critical theories have made the same critique about the fiction of the "natural," or "essential," characteristics of humans, which are really effects of the Law under which human beings live. Only through representing the fiction-in-process, in other words, alienating the natural, can interested parties hope to open a space for actual change. Brecht describes this historicization in many places in his writings, shifting tone or emphasis in his cus­ tomary polemical way to suit the occasion. Here are two of the most important passages, the first from "A Short Organum," the second from "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting": We must drop our habit of taking the different social structures of past periods, then stripping them of everything that makes them different so that they all look more or less like our own, which then acquires from this process a certain air of having been there all along, in other words of permanence pure and simple. Instead we must leave them their distinguishing marks and keep their impermanence always before our eyes, so that our own period can be seen to be impermanent too.25 The bourgeois theatre emphasized the timelessness of its objects. Its representation of people is bound by the alleged "eternally human." Its story is arranged in such a way as to create "univer­ sal" situations that allow Man with a capital M to express him­ self: man of every period and every colour . . . . This notion may allow that such a thing as history exists, but it is none the less unhistorical.26



This necessity for historicization is applicable to both content and form. The story told must show, through social gests, the sociopoliti­ cal formation underlying the interactions, while the method of telling must present a discontinuity and an opportunity for judgment. Thus, this proviso: Alienation effect occurs in those moments, but only in those moments, when the social gestus of a scene produces a clear historical perspective within an alterable field of possible actions. This way of stating it avoids those synonyms for alienation such as distanciation or making strange that apply to formalist art as well as epic art. Two other aspects of Brecht's theater, distinct from dramaturgy per se, pertain to this discussion. The development of a specifically Brechtian acting style and the expectation of a certain kind of spectatorship inform the entire epic project and its British variants. For Brecht a triangular relationship exists between the actor, the char­ acter, and the spectator. It is as if the actor is talking to the spec­ tator about a third person: "Look here," she might say to the specta­ tor, "did you notice how the Grand Duke can't quite pull off his disguise? Know why that is? He doesn't know how to eat like a poor man. Here, I'll show you." Thus, the actor demonstrates behav­ ior to the spectator and engages in examination and representation in a conscious, indeed self-conscious, way. Finding just the right social gestus, just the right prop to help carry the gestus, these are crucial actorly duties. Brecht cautions actors to study their first reac­ tions and follow what astounds or surprises, not to turn their choices into "universal" ones: "The actor does not allow himself to become completely transformed on the stage into the character he is portraying. He is not Lear, Harpagon, Schweik; he shows them. He reproduces their remarks as authentically as he can; he puts for­ ward their way of behaving to the best of his abilities and knowl­ edge of men; but he never tries to persuade himself (and thereby others) that this amounts to a complete transformation."27 This is sometimes a hard concept to explain to student actors, especially in the United States, but British acting traditions have always been strong on cool observation and the technique of playing social differ­ ence, whether in Oscar Wilde or Bertolt Brecht. There is a certain compatibility (noted wittily by Howard Brenton in chapter 1) be­ tween traditional English acting and Brechtian requirements that


After Brecht

has facilitated the success of the epic style in Britain. Of course, Brecht always cautions about the overly familiar: if recognized too quickly as natural, a behavior is not examined or probed. Thus, Ed­ ward Bond's great frustration with the polished and predictable act­ ing of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The playwrights in this book often help actors along by building various devices and clues into the structure and dialogue of their plays, thereby producing this triangulated relationship. This summary of Brecht's main elements is necessarily cursory. Those not familiar with Brecht are referred to the large number of excellent reference works on Brecht and his theater, most especially to the work of John Willett, who, in addition to being Brecht's defini­ tive translator in English and an astute critic and historian, happens to be British.28 Although this is primarily a book about playwrights and their work, it is impossible to study Brecht without realizing the central impor­ tance of the role of design and direction in mounting a counteraesthetic of any kind. This book focuses on texts, while a book on Brecht's legacy to France might more appropriately focus on miseen-scene. Nevertheless, many of the playwrights discussed here have worked closely with key directors or have directed extensively themselves, and Brecht's legacy to the British theater includes appli­ cations of epic principles to staging and design. There are a number of designers who have contributed to the British epic style (Jocelyn Herbert, Andy Phillips, and Hadyn Griffin come immediately to mind).29 Among directors, William GaskiU's career is both exemplary and formative: Gaskill is the British director who most exemplifies the Brechtian legacy and whose work has in many ways been responsible for translating that legacy into British staging practices. Joan Littlewood, Peter Brook, and John Dexter have also made directorial con­ tributions of import, but it is William Gaskill whose directing contin­ ues, into the 1990s, to include and foreground the Brechtian connec­ tion in Britain and to dramatize the force and sequence of that legacy, even as he turns to other nonepic work (in the 1990s, e.g., Pirandello and Bulgakov). First, of course, there is GaskiU's involvement with the Royal Court. He was one of the original assistants to the artistic director



chosen by George Devine (the other was John Dexter), and eventu­ ally he succeeded Devine as artistic director (1965-72). The enthusi­ asm of Devine for the work of the Berliner Ensemble was shared by Gaskill, who was intrigued before he saw them and then completely won over by their 1956 visit to London.30 The proscenium stage at the Royal Court was fitted for the first season with a permanent setting modeled on the surround of the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. The theater was conceived and, due to its size and shape, served as an epic playing space.31 Plays that weren't epic were "made to fit," as, e.g., Look Back in Anger or Angus Wilson's The Mulberry Bush. Gaskill admits, "Many of the plays [produced at the Court] were not epic, although we often tried to reimpose that style."32 Joceyln Herbert, the resident designer, was developing an austere, epic style, which Gaskill thinks corresponds to "a certain kind of English Puritan aes­ thetic" in its lack of decoration.33 Although Gaskill also experimented with Stanislavsky, and im­ provisation and mask work, he pioneered experiments with Brechtian acting in the Writers' Group, which he ran at the Court during his early years as assistant artistic director (1958-60). This work has shaped his long-term approach to acting and to staging texts. The group included Edward Bond, Ann Jellicoe, Keith Johnstone, John Arden, Arnold Wesker, and Wole Soyinka, most of whom have been characterized by various critics as Brechtian.34 There he conducted improvisations based on Brecht's Der Jasager and Der Neinsager, using only statement and question as method. During this workshop he also used classic Brecht third-person narrative techniques to establish actor objectivity. His account of rehearsal techniques for The Cauca­ sian Chalk Circle, which he directed for the RSC in 1962, includes, in addition to third-person playing, analyses of the social as opposed to psychological motivation of actions. He also had the actors play different parts, differing the final casting decisions until it was clear "who play[ed] what part best." Thus, Gaskill made a wide applica­ tion of Brecht's principles through the various strands of his own preparation and technique.35 From this early work he learned the necessity of understanding a play in terms of the sociopolitical meaning of its actions. He began to see a play as "a series of actions governed by decision," and he saw that character is secondary to the action: "Theatre is about what hap­ pens, not what people are."36 He also saw, perhaps as a result of the


After Brecht

Caucasian Chalk Circle casting situation, that working with a company that understands and shares a basic attitude to the project enables the process. He considers his work on Fanshen for Joint Stock in 1975 to be the epitome of this approach: "For me, it was a fulfilment of the process started on The Chalk Circle and thwarted by the demands of the RSC and Peter Hall [Hall took over rehearsals during the last two days], the process in which the actors share an understanding of the political responsibility of the play; they are not just there to serve the writer but, together with the writer, are making a statement."37 While a permanent company that shares a point of view has proved to be a fleeting chimera over the years, Gaskill has satisfied some of his desire for this kind of work by teaching, which he has done off and on throughout his career. He has been Grenada Director in Residence at University of California, Davis, on repeated occa­ sions, and I have had the opportunity to see three of his productions with Davis students: In the Jungle of Cities (1983), Saint Joan of the Stockyards (1989), and Howard Barker's The Love of a Good Man (1990). Describing his rehearsal process for the Barker play, Gaskill noted: "We talked about the meaning of the text a lo t. . . did close textual work. I wouldn't let them do Act Three for weeks and weeks; they just didn't understand it. I think that was right."38 On the other hand, when he directed Saint Joan he did not talk with the students at length about the politics of the text but, instead, concentrated on the challenges of speaking the text with clarity and precision, because he felt that the political meanings of the text would not work for students today, since they have "no historical sense" and since "the problems of class struggle as stated in the 30s aren't the same as they are today, or at least even if they are, they're not imaginatively and theatrically true."39 Although his approaches to teaching differed in the two produc­ tions, what was unmistakable in performance was the emphasis on the action of the discrete scenes, the decisions made, the objective presentationality of the actors, and the austere and uncluttered aes­ thetics of the staging, which clarified the gestus in each scene. When I asked him in 1985 what major things he had learned from Brecht as a director, he stressed that movement was only to be employed to indicate a fundamental change in the relationships: "You should not move an actor in a scene without a reason."40 Writing in A Sense of Direction in 1988, he reaffirms the necessity of "keeping a sense of



what the play is about. . . . It was a lesson that I started to learn in 1956. The most usual approving comment on my work is that 'it's so clear'. What do they expect it to be. Muddy?"41 All of the Gaskill productions that I have seen manifest this quality, unlike the work of many American directors, who seem to move people about in order to keep the audience's attention. But rather than appearing static, Gaskill's productions appear very dy­ namic, because when movement happens it always means something important and decisive. In his production of Saint Joan his groupings were always clear and distinct, allowing the perception of three groups—the poor, the Salvation Army people, and the capitalists. The dialectics of the text were played out through the compositions and blocking of the scenes. Similarly, The Love of a Good Man featured striking differences between the working-class soldiers and the mid­ dle-class characters, underlined by compositional choices. For ex­ ample, at one point the middle-class mother kisses the dead son: Howard Barker says this should be center stage. Gaskill rehearsed it there, then he realized it needed to be staged to one side, allowing the soldiers who enter carrying the coffin to form a group in visual opposition on the other side. Gaskill laughs: "I can do that in my sleep.. .. I've done it in so many plays, I almost do it without think­ ing about it."42 Be that as it may, the politics of composition are a key to his work, gleaned from Brecht and visible throughout his career, from his production of Edward Bond's Saved in 1965 to the present. Gaskill directed many of the early Brecht productions in Britain, including Mother Courage (National Theatre, 1965), The Caucasian Chalk Circle (RSC, 1962), and Baal (West End, 1963). Through the years he has directed most of the major and some of the minor Brecht plays. He chose Saint Joan for University of California, Davis (UCD), in part, in order to do a Brecht play that he doubted could be done in a commercial site and because he had always liked the play and had not done it.43 He was widely known as the major director of the plays of Edward Bond, through The Fool. He has also collaborated with David Hare and Max Stafford-Clark, doing several productions for Joint Stock, the other producing group (besides the Court) for which many of the writers discussed here worked.44 Gaskill has helped develop the meaning of "epic theater" for Britain and serves as an important focal point for the Brechtian legacy. In recent years Gaskill sees himself as "not a very political per­


After Brecht

son,"45 which seems strange for someone who was a member of the Committee of 100 of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and participated in the first Adlermaston march. I suspect, in part, his current self-perception is a symptom of the legacy of the 1980s to isolated and privatized artists, working on single projects, living in the divisive climate that Thatcherism had so pervasively enforced. And as Gaskill has never been an advocate of party or program, it is easy to experience the erasure of any meaningful political energy in the vacuum in which grass roots activism or working with likeminded theater peers used to be. Finally, then, a word about the particular playwrights collected here: Howard Brenton, David Hare, Edward Bond, Trevor Griffiths, Caryl Churchill, and John McGrath. While they are far from the only playwrights who offer useful examples of the Brechtian legacy, they have made an important and influential body of work, defining the practical political theater from 1960 to 1990; one could say they are hegemonic in this special sense. These six well-known contemporary writers offer different ways of appropriating and transforming or sometimes countering Brecht. I have deliberately included someone like Trevor Griffiths, who considers himself a realist writer rather than an epic writer, because he provokes the issue of the limitations of the epic-realist opposition, creating a richly hybrid body of work that does and does not deserve to be called "epic." Furthermore, his own perception of the role of the leftist writer within British culture enhances every aspect of this discussion. I have not written about the first generation of post-Brechtian writers (John Osborne, John Arden, Arnold Wesker, and Shelagh Delaney), except for Edward Bond. In a way he "holds a place" for a group of writers who started out in London at the Royal Court or Stratford East. Unlike the others, Bond continues to be essential to any discussion of the contemporary epic and its relation to Brecht. What is offered here, then, is a selection of writers who might be fruitfully considered "After Brecht"; readers will probably want to add their own selections to the list.

Chapter 1

Howard Brenton: Gestus in Public Spaces

M ore than anyone writing in Britain today Howard Brenton epito­ mizes the Brechtian legacy. His singular and original contribution to left-wing theater is exemplary in its own right, and Brenton seems to show what a successor to Brecht might be like. In this judgment I am specifically thinking of how much more suitable Brenton is for this post than Heiner Müller, knowing full well the overwhelming critical judgment that sees Müller as Brecht's "son." While Müller certainly employed, especially in his early work, a full range of Brechtian theory and technique with which he was completely knowledgable, his theater practice has moved away from Brechtian dramaturgy. Rather than seeing this change, as many have, as the result of his seduction and co-optation by the West, it seems clear to me that Müller was confronting a really-existing situation that ren­ dered the Brechtian outlook obsolete. I refer, of course, to "reallyexisting socialism" and the fact that the imperative responsibility for Müller became a dramatic critique of his experience in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).1 For Brenton in Britain the fight remains framed in similar ideological terms as Brecht's battle with Weimar. In Britain a ruling class of privileged bourgeoisie has continued to enforce radical individualism and capitalist socioeconomism as the dominant hegemony. The contradictions between material reality and ideological flummery are still capable of exposure and critique; Brenton's sense of emptiness is less existentially vivid in a country that has not had a communism to feel betrayed by. Only recently, of course, the post-Cold War situation has begun to change the climate for leftist writers, bringing with it the need for a reappraisal of many relationships, including the legacy of Brecht. Brenton grew up in a time when revolution seemed like a viable possibility, much as was the case in Brecht's society before his exile. 17


After Brecht

After two periods of Thatcherism, however, Bren ton along with other theater workers might be said to find themselves increasingly in a kind of exile, and indeed exile has been an important theme in Brenton's work: Weapons of Happiness (1976), Bloody Poetry (1984), Conversa­ tions in Exile (1985), The Genius (1983). There are other reasons why Brenton seems to me to epitomize the Brechtian legacy: temperamentally, he is feisty, with a driving insistence about his goals; he combines irony, satire, and broad hu­ mor in scathing critiques of those in power, and, like Brecht, he is always situated politically vis-à-vis current affairs. Ruby Cohn finds that "of the left-wing playwrights born in the 1940s Howard Brenton has been most vituperative against mainstream culture."2 As for aes­ thetics, he has a demonstrated track record of experiment; his restless "ripping off," as he would say, of various forms and the wide range of the types of plays he has written combine with his openness and commitment to collaboration.3 Many of his experiments have been collaborative, including Brassneck (1973), Epsom Downs (1977), The Sleeping Policeman (1983), and Moscow Gold (1990). He sometimes writes at breakneck speed but also might take years to finish a pro­ ject—Greenland (1988) represents seven years of work—and he is a reviser of materials as conditions change. Much as Brecht revised Galileo in light of history, Brenton's Churchill Play has three scripts, reflecting the different moments of its production and key revivals. While Brenton does not have Brecht's penchant to theorize, and sometimes claims he has no use for aesthetics, he is a hard-edged intellectual, who is willing to engage in ideas about the theater and how it works, to research and work with the knowledge of others, and to write several very fine pieces of theory and a fair amount of criticism.4 Of course, Brenton is not a simple successor to Brecht. He lives, after all, in a different time—closer to Mùller in that respect. The preoccupations of late-twentieth-century Western "democractic" life mark his work. He has shown awareness and interest in the question of ethnic and cultural differences and their representation (The Sleep­ ing Policeman and Iranian Nights [1989]); taken up the task of interro­ gating really-existing socialism from within a leftist perspective (Weapons of Happiness and Thirteenth Night [1981]); lived through femi­ nism and grappled with gender issues (Sore Throats [1979] and Bloody

Howard Brenton


Poetry). These topics are embraced in a passionate belief that cultural struggle does matter, that writing is valuable to the body politic. One major difference, perhaps, between this moment in history and Brecht's is reflected in Brecht's absolute sense that he was at the center, that as a man and an intellectual and a German, he was centered. Brenton is decentered; it is the contemporary condition. And then there is Brenton's own attitude toward Brecht. He has, in a most direct way, engaged Brecht. In his early years he dismissed and attacked him, then, having translated two of his plays, he re­ thought his position on Brecht, and was (and is) able to talk about Brecht in detail—the plays and the theory—and about what he learned and what he has eschewed. He has published on these mat­ ters, and he has been willing to discuss them at length.5 Brecht is seriously "on line" for Howard Brenton, even as he transcends him with his own creativity and contemporaneity. Brenton has certainly not wanted to imitate Brecht's plays, but he has been committed to an epic play structure for most of his career. In 1975 he explained, "You could say that there are two kinds of plays—those set in rooms and those outside rooms. . . outside means using an epic structure."6 The advantage to an outdoor setting is that the play is kept "public," a term that for Brenton is more precise than political. "The space between people defines the actual physical theatre, the space between the audience itself and the actors. And that space and relationship becomes an almost moral force in the writing and in the presentation—a sense of bodies and will and con­ centration, and laughter or abuse. From that feeling, you begin to want to write about how people conduct themselves in life as groups, as classes, as interests."7 The theater, then, is inherently public and political. In most of Brenton's plays a group of people find them­ selves in a public situation. Brenton's play The Genius takes place on a university knoll. The Romans in Britain (1980) is played on the con­ tested soil of its multiple locations. The Churchill Play (1974) ranges over a variety of public locations and depicts a group of political prisoners in a detention camp as they perform an "entertainment" and ultimately attempt to escape from their British government cap­ tors. In Hitler Dances (1982), a group of children play on a rubbish heap that is also a graveyard from World War II. An old German soldier rises from the dead and tries to return home. He tells Linda,

The Churchill Play, by Howard Brenton. Barbican Theatre, Novem­ ber 1988. Director Barry Kyle. Photograph by Donald Cooper, cour­ tesy of Howard Brenton.

Howard Brenton


the little girl who befriends him, the wartime story of Violette. The story is announced at the beginning of the second act: "The dead German soldier tells the little girl the story of Violette."8 Hitler Dances is literally outside, and the public quality of the play is created when three lines of experience meet: contemporary middle-class reality (Linda), the "enemy" of World War II (Hans), and the allied situation (Violette). This publicness, which is essentially the confrontation of differ­ ent classes and social groups over the issues of the narrative, is even present in Brenton's "indoor" plays. Magnificence (1973) has an out­ side second act, but the opening inside scene is also public. A group of young would-be revolutionaries takes over an unoccupied house. In it they find an old man who has come inside to drink and sleep. In point of fact, the group is not there completely by themselves and the space is a neutral, public space until they try to take it over and spray their own slogans on the walls. Even Sore Throats, which takes place completely indoors and is Brenton's most domestic play, uses the public space of an empty apartment-for-rent to create a sense of social context. The woman who becomes the third protagonist is a stranger, coming by to examine the apartment, when she stumbles on the marital squalor of Jack and Judy. In Brenton's recent play, Berlin Bertie (1992), the apartment location is made considerably less private by its disheveled condition and the presence of Joanne, who is a stranger staying there. The space is like squatters' digs. Thus, the encounter of people from different perspectives and value systems shapes Brenton's plays. The space provides a dimension of the social situation; indeed, space materializes and concretizes it as theater practice. As Brecht noted: "To make these transactions intelligible the environment in which people lived had to be brought to bear in a big and significant way. This environment had of course been shown in the existing drama, but only as seen from the central figure's point of view, and not as an independent element."9 While Brecht used projected titles and images to create a specific attitude to the environment, Brenton experiments with the power of public space to evoke the social context. This task is tricky, since what is wanted is not a Zolaesque environment of overdetermined objects and scenery but, rather, a space that activates and makes evident the social praxis that takes place there. The audience itself is part of the public, evaluating and making judgments about the various scenes


After Brecht

from public life in which they do or could participate. W. B. Worthen has written about Brenton's techniques for compelling the audience to "interrogate the reenactment, consumption, and transmission of 'history' as theater." Worthen points up the self-conscious role playing of Hitler Dances and the play-within-a-play structure of The Churchill Play as metatheatrical critiques that implicate spectators, "addressing] not so much the acting of political theater but its function in a specific social context, one that embraces the performers, the onstage audi­ ence, and the theatrical audience they come to represent."10 Juxtaposing two narratives is another of Brenton's recurring epic techniques that builds on the plasticity of his spatial conceptions. Reminiscent of Caucasian Chalk Circle, in which Brecht abruptly inter­ rupts the Grusha story and counterposes the Adzak story, Brenton's plays often feature discontinuous episodes linked not by necessity but by design. Hitler Dances uses two interspliced narratives to this advantage, as does The Churchill Play, with its clear division between the play-within-a-play, which the prisoners rehearse and perform, and the incidents having to do with their prison life and escape at­ tempt (though these are finally connected, again similar to Caucasian Chalk Circle). Romans in Britain is built on the intersection of two cultures, Celt and Roman, and their juxtaposition with 1980s Ireland. Brenton's recent play, Berlin Bertie, intercuts a contemporary British social worker's life under Thatcher with an East German church worker's life under Honecker. This work echoes his earlier Weapons of Happiness, in which a strike in a chip factory in contemporary England is undercut by Josef Frank's experience as a cabinet minister in the Communist Czech government during the Stalinist 1950s. In each of these plays there is a thematic point to the interspliced narra­ tives, but there is also a structural payoff in terms of alienation and historicization. About Magnificence, which also features a split narra­ tive, Brenton said, sounding very much like Brecht: "Coherence within a play is not a matter of choosing to write in one style. That's just sameness, superficial neatness. Actual coherence means using many different styles, moulding them, a deliberate process of selec­ tion, in order to express that whole within a play."11 Contradiction and coherence are inherent in any theater commit­ ted to a dialectical process; "character" is one place in which they're found. Brecht and Brenton both encounter them when divising tech­ niques of characterization.

Howard Brenton


This is Brecht: "It is too great a simplification if we make the actions fit the character and the character fit the actions: the inconsis­ tencies which are to be found in the actions and characters of real people cannot be shown like this. . . . The coherence of the character is in fact shown by the way in which its individual qualities contradict one another."12 This is Brenton: "I've always been against psychology in plays. I think that psychology is used like a wet blanket by many playwrights, and as a very easy explanation and I wanted to stop that dead in its tracks.. .. One of the formal ways of doing that was to emphasize the role, the action. If you fit the two conficting elements of the action into the same actor, there is no danger, or it lessens the danger, of an actor working out a psychological performance."13 Although he wrote that in 1975, Brenton is still working from the same convictions, as is evident in his discussion of the appropriate style for Moscow Gold. Although Bloody Poetry, H.l.D. (1989), and Berlin Bertie can be seen as more psychological than most of his other work, the gaps in explanatory material, the contradictions of the characters, and their often ambiguous status continue to alienate any personalized interpretation. His plays are always more about situ­ ation than about character, although he has extended the capacity of epic form to include aspects of intense emotion and personal experi­ ence without losing control of the contradictions.14 In some plays Brenton depsychologizes his characters by using theatrical devices. In Christie in Love (1969), for example, Brenton uses masks to develop a difference between myth and reality. Christie is the story of a sex murderer, based on an actual occurrence, who kills for love. Brenton juxtaposes caricatures of British policemen with a fairly naturalistic Christie, except that, of course, he wears a horrific mask. Brenton himself called this an alienation device.15 The women Christie kills are plastic dolls. The style works to make Christie, the sex slayer, the most human of those portrayed, while his crimes continue to be horrific. Brenton commented: "It seemed to me that what he was about was love, and that is an uncomfortable fact. As he was based on a real person, he already had the stature of myth or legend and so the undercutting of the myth by playing him naturalistically and the rest of the world as caricature forced a confrontation with unexamined assumptions about criminal acts."16 Audiences have been confused about the proper response to Christie, this simul­


After Brecht

taneous murderer and victim. Of course, confusion in the sense of sorting through, questioning received ideas and perhaps changing them, is exactly the relationship with the audience Brecht and Brenton most desire. Still, audiences have to learn to accept a different relationship than identification, since that is still the dominant and expected spectatorial behavior. The problem of the correct interpretation of the main character plagues Brenton as it did Brecht (indicated below in the cases of The Genius and Bloody Poetry). Sometimes actors don't understand what is required, especially when they have been trained in psychological realism. Brenton thinks that English actors are more accustomed to developing characters through their actions and behavior than American actors (who are method trained). He even wonders "whether Brecht actually had a problem .. . with the German actor of his time, and that in a way what he was asking for was that he be more English. . . . Because there's something cynical, or not cynical, sardonic about the way a lot of actors do stuff h ere.. . . That is, they will stand no sentimental shit from a playwright about feeling. I mean they put you in your place, particularly English actors, if you're a playwright who wants to talk about soul or feeling."17 English actors may be trained to play with an appropriate detachment, but Brenton's characters have often provoked critical confusion just the same. Brenton believes that, in spite of twenty years of epic plays, British theater critics still don't understand the style: "Despite all the things [plays] we've done, the form still isn't established.. . . Critics can't tell whether they're watching a good epic play or a bad epic play often, because criteria haven't stuck."18 The major factor in this pre­ dicament is undoubtedly the continued dominance of psychological realism in commercial plays, films, and television dramas. Coherent characterization is the heart of this style, and its hold on the public, including critics, is hard to break because it is complicit with the ideological structures of late capitalism.19 Brenton struggles to go beyond the habitual expectations of audi­ ence and critics alike to challenge their status quo perceptions. As a socialist committed to change, he shares with Brecht the desire to demonstrate that things might be different than what they are, that history is a product of situation and choice. Brenton's plays have frequently drawn on historical situations while projecting into the

Howard Brenton


future. Plays about the past, especially The Romans in Britain, have deliberately questioned and punctured popular conceptions of his­ tory. Angry critics claimed Romans was an obscene and barbaric play, but its very importance lay in its challenge to traditional views of England, the Romans, Celts, even King Arthur, and in the juxtaposi­ tion of 54 B .C ., a . d . 515, and 1980 Ireland. In an essay for Critical Quarterly Philip Roberts has argued in detail that, in fact, Brenton's account of history is upheld by standard reference works on the period and concludes that "his selection of detail for dramatic pur­ poses neither distorts history nor manufactures it."20 The extreme reaction in the press and among some "pillars of society" is actually the best indication that Brenton succeeded in historicizing the inci­ dents.21 By calling attention to the parallel between the brutal Roman imposition of their culture on Britain and the similarly brutal imposi­ tion by the Protestants on Ireland, Brenton raises political issues about the interpretation of the past and, most important, proper con­ duct in the future. The relationship of past to present and future is the heart of the historicizing process. Because of its size and complex­ ity, Richard Boone judges Romans to be "the summation of the British epic theater he [Brenton] had been developing throughout the nine­ teen seventies."22 While I partly agree with Boone's assessment, I think it is important to see the principle of historicization, with its forced confrontation of past, present, and future, as constitutive of Brenton's work, not only in big, overtly historical plays but also in "smaller" plays. Berlin Bertie, for example, gives dramatic representa­ tion to the process of disillusion and reassessment attendant on this moment in time in the wake of failed socialism. The play looks like realism but is completely epic, from my point of view.23 Thus far, I have been describing the relatively stable features of Brenton's work that appear when considered synchronically. The rest of this chapter focuses on three of Brenton's plays from the the mid-1980s to the present. Two of the three plays are absolutely tied to contemporary events—which may mean they will not be revived in the near future, since history has overtaken them. But, then again, Brenton might just revise them, a la Bert Brecht, as he did with the updates of The Churchill Play in 1979 and 1984. I chose these plays because they show Brenton's debt to Brecht and also the unique ways he surpasses and transforms the legacy.


After Brecht

The Genius The Genius can be seen as a companion piece to Brenton's version of Brecht's Galileo, since he originally conceived it to play concurrently with the National Theatre's production of his translation of Galileo.24 I like to think of the The Genius as part of an extended conversation between Brenton and Brecht, in which Brenton updates Brecht on the contemporary scientist's predicament in the 1980s, and on the simi­ larities and differences between the various moments in history: Gali­ leo's, Brecht's, and Brenton's.25 As in Galileo's time, the contempo­ rary scientist is property of the ruling body; substitute the church for the state, and nothing much has changed. Unlike in Galileo's time, science is at the threshold not of destroying people's faith but, rather, of utterly destroying people altogether. In Brecht's time the Atom Bomb provided a lethal example of scientific discovery harnassed to state power; in Brenton's time the stage is set for a nuclear holocaust beyond most people's ability to imagine. In Brecht's representation of Galileo's world women mostly express reactionary sentiments and have little direct knowledge of science, while Brenton's women par­ ticipate directly in the knowledge and discovery of science and also embody a revolutionary commitment to a different future. The Genius was first produced in September of 1983, after the Greenham Common women's peace camp had existed for two years. Women protesting the deployment of cruise missiles in Europe (ninety-six missiles at Greenham Common) set up a peace camp, which drew worldwide attention and significant support for several years. It has become a symbol of feminist solidarity and intervention and should go down in history as a brave instance of grass roots organizing and spontaneous action against patriarchal power. The play alludes to the camp in its closing scene, and it is important not to lose the sense of its historical context, just as it is important not to forget that Brecht rewrote Galileo after Hiroshima. Ann Wilson is critical of Brenton's gender politics in this play, arguing that he "is unable to escape portraying women within fairly conventional gender stereotypes as children or as mothers. . . . In the last two scenes of the play, we see the women acting; but their en­ gagement with anti-nuclear politics seems to be largely emotional, devoid of reasoning about the terms of their political action." I dis­ agree with both points: although some of the women are young (col­

Howard Brenton


lege students), a variety of women represent single, married but childless, and more conventional married-with-child positions (only one mother, actually, and she is never onstage). The topical gloss on the situation at Greenham Common historicizes the actions of the women in the last scene, rendering them neither thoughtless nor merely emotional, although they certainly don't provide an ade­ quate solution to the problems of the play—that would be sentimen­ tal and ahistorical. In validating separate women's action as well as the reconciliation between Gilly and Leo (an image of the hetero­ sexual couple), Brenton figures a multiplicity of alliances in political resistance.26 In their introduction to Greenham Women Everywhere Alice Cook and Gwyn Kirk write: Greenham Common women's peace camp has existed now (June 1983) for 21 months, maintaining an unbroken presence outside the air base, despite two bad winters and continual harassment by the authorities. The ideas and vitality exemplified by the peace camp are in dramatic contrast to the bleakness and dread­ ful purpose of the base—two opposing value systems right next to one another but on opposite sides of the fence. The peace camp is a remarkable manifestation of women's determination and vision, and inspiration to many thousands of people in this country and abroad. As well as being a round-the-clock protest against cruise missiles, it is also a resource—a women's space in which to try to live out ideals of feminism and nonviolence, a focus for information and ideas, a meeting place, and a vital context for women to express their beliefs and feelings.27 The possibility for social action staged in the closing scene of The Genius is directly linked to the protest at Greenham Common and, as such, represents both a Utopian possibility and a concrete histori­ cal actuality. The title indicates that the play concerns the relationship be­ tween the gifted or extraordinary individual and society. In this case it applies to dual protagonists, one a cynical American male and the other a naive English schoolgirl. Leo and Gilly are Brenton's gen­ iuses. They have both independently discovered an equation that shows the unity of the four forces of nature (gravity, electrical force,


After Brecht

strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force) and that will produce a new generation of nuclear weapons. But Leo is a Nobel prize-winning American professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who, while personally bankrupt, has been unwilling to turn his dis­ coveries over to the U.S. government, while Gillian is a new college student without a clue about the functional meaning of her own discovery. For her math is beautiful; sums are beautiful, like music. Through these two protagonists Brenton is able to interrogate the limits of two responses to the intersection of knowledge and power: cynical irresponsibility in Leo and escapist denial in Gilly. From the standpoint of the gifted, "genius" is an unexplained talent that seems natural: "It's . . . like knowing a piece of music by heart, without ever having heard it before, or read the notes. You just sit down at the piano, play, and the air remembers the music, and there it goes, out of the window." "Normal," ordinary persons, however, perceive genius as mysterious, aberrant, strange: "Y'know, in school, you get a reputation for being weird, liking books or some­ thing, and you get your head put down the toilet" (18).28 Others can turn the genius into a superstar, can mistake the talent for an index of human value. But genius is no guarantee of humanity, and neither is it a license to live apart from the ethical dilemmas of sociality. Yet another important concern of the play is the relationship between knowledge and the institution that produces it—more pre­ cisely, the university. In the course of the play Brenton examines many of the commonly held traditions and beliefs about the univer­ sity's role in the production and transmission of knowledge, about the social responsibility of faculty for their research, about the rela­ tionship of teaching and learning. The university is a large bureaucratic structure that is ultimately part of the state apparatus. Nor is this only true during a regime of destructive Thatcherism. The university can be seen as an embattled site of many disputes about its right and proper role. On the one hand, seen from the philosophy of liberal education, the role of the university should be to help students understand the universe and their place in it. On the other hand, the university is also a national institution, with commitments to training an educated, skilled work force that meets the needs of a particular national socioeconomic system. "A university is paid for—by a government that wants weap­ ons, a car industry that wants the petrol-free engine" (8). In addition,

Howard Brenton


the mythology about the disinterested and unpolitical character of knowledge is maintained through collusion by members of the uni­ versity faculty, attached to the self-serving notion of the purity and high humanistic value of their work. Most readily apparent in the sciences, this fiction holds special sway in fields in which the distinc­ tion between "pure" and "applied" research carries with it a differ­ ence of status and privilege. Implicated in the notion of pure re­ search, unencumbered by the material trappings of use value, is a notion of the university as ivory tower, above and beyond all that is grubby, mundane, political. Such a view is useful to some philistine faculty members who find it a convenient dodge for their own intel­ lectual irresponsibility. And, of course, it is useful to the state appara­ tus, which benefits from the apparently benign face of research grants and government contracts given to conduct research on topics beyond the comprehension of the ordinary citizenry—a point well made in The Genius, when Brenton shows that most people think of fire, air, earth, and water as the four forces of nature ("Medieval honey, medieval" [19]). The central setting for the play is the university knoll, a typical public setting and one that focuses the play on the educational insti­ tution of the university. It is also, however, an "outside" location— open, natural, where weather dominates rather than bureaucracy. Only one of the play's nine scenes takes place inside, and that scene stages the closed and cancerous hold of institutional dominance. The play is seemingly about attempts to harnass nature, but at the same time nature opens up possibilities for change, for action, for alterna­ tives. If there is a romanticism in Brenton, and sometimes there is, it appears in this work in the imagistic play of snow and rain and wind, which provide a place to struggle, an open field of encounter and possibility, even a place to work out equations. The play has a plot structure reminiscent of a popular genre, the spy novel.29 Leo Lehrer, Nobel prize-winning American scientist, has come to a midlands university on a research grant. Actually, he is in disgrace because he has flushed an important discovery down the toilet rather than give it to his government. The discovery will enable a new generation of weapons. Rather than a dissident hero, Leo is an artful dodger, wanting to dull his sense of responsibility with cocaine and sex and deal with the predicament of his work by not doing it. He meets the other genius, an innocent first-year math


After Brecht

student named Gilly, who wants to do her math as if it were music in a pristine mental space not contaminated by politics or sordid everyday life. The central plot question appears to be whether or not the government and its agents (the university vice-chancellor, for one) will force the geniuses to turn over their research. The research cannot finally be hidden; it is turned over. Then the real question of the play emerges: What next? What is the appropriate action and response of geniuses to the inevitable social use and abuse of their work? Thus, Brenton uses spy thriller disguise and suspense (there is an art history professor who is a Russian agent and a student who professes revolutionary socialism but is actually a government agent) to frame a drama whose real action is mental and moral. Brenton uses the familiar formula of the plot, not so much to heighten suspense as to ironize the action. He quotes a form, the thriller, to signify the malevolent and cheap aspects of academic life. In this sense, it is more metaphorical than literal plot. Thus, it be­ comes an epic device by providing a point of view on the material. Again the triangulation: "Do you notice," says Brenton to the audi­ ence, "how much this begins to resemble a cheap spy thriller?" Although it may not appear so at first glance, The Genius is one of Brenton's most mature epic plays. Besides historicizing the inci­ dents of his narrative by reference to Galileo and Greenham Common, Brenton has mastered the social gestus in this play. At the level of both character and scene the epic quality of the writing is apparent. In scene 2, "Equations in the Snow," Brenton provides Gillian with a snow-covered hill on which to draw out her mathematical symbols. These marks are partially obliterated when Tom and Andrea trample them during a fight about the sexism of left-wing organizations. Gilly responds: "Go away. You talk too much. Clack clack. That's all I hear from people like you. Clack clack. So go away" (12). Later Leo and Virginia make love in the snow, literally falling among the equations. Enter Virginia's husband, Graham, and domestic melodrama pro­ duces a scuffle. Gilly discovers them destroying her work: "How many more of you? Coming up, messing me up. . . . It's not fair. Lucky for you I've got it written down in my binder" (16). The impossibility of separating science, art, and music from ev­ eryday life is enacted in the scene, which itself builds in frustration and intensity (and humor) to a Godot-like moment, when all three of the people left onstage are on the ground, caught in a tangle of

Howard Brenton


body parts. The myth of the purity of knowledge is exploded as it becomes increasingly impossible to avoid both personal and political entanglements. The scene simultaneoulsy exposes the shortcomings of three separate ideologies: the Marxist-Leninist subordination of women to class struggle, the illusion of humanist intellectuals' moral or ethical superiority, and the speciousness of the traditional distinc­ tion between pure and applied knowledge. The image of the equa­ tions in the snow and the unfolding action involving it demonstrate the gap in these instances between ideal and real, between mental and corporeal, between theory and practice. In its spoken text The Genius eloquently shows how institutions are part of the state apparatus and that knowledge pursued under their aegis is always subject to state uses. The visual text, however, takes this critique further. When Leo, teaching Gillian about the four forces of nature, uses his clothes, his flashlight, and finally his and Gilliart's bodies to illustrate his point, Brenton situates knowledge and learning within social and physical interaction. The intimacy of knowledge and learning, and the social transactions they must in­ volve, makes sociality a fundamental constitutive part of discovery, creativity, productivity. One of the most compelling themes of this work (and it is central to Brenton's whole body of work) is the insepa­ rable connection between intellectual, emotional, and social realms. His gestic mise-en-scene demonstrates these connections as a set of staged social relationships. Brenton's special strength is image making. Part poetic, part painterly, words and actions come together in combinations that work as metaphoric and material equivalents. The snow, with its connotations of purity and coldness, blankness and cover-up, or the way the corporeal learning of the four forces of nature links the body's materiality to that of science and nature—these social gests are like complete Brechtian scenes in and of themselves. In addition to single images or sequences of images, Brenton uses a larger epic scene structure to good advantage in The Genius. His scenes are "knotted together" in such a way as to show their knots (they are independent and not inevitable), and, more than in Brenton's earlier work, they are often complete in themselves. In an interview in 1985 Brenton commented on his experience working with the production of Galileo and how it clarified this aspect of Brechtian dramaturgy:


After Brecht Working on Galileo I realized that what Brecht really tried to do was to make sure each scene is a play in itself that you could almost lift out and play as lunch-time theatre or as a one-act. Several scenes work like that in Galileo, Mother Courage, Puntila. All his great, big epic plays have this odd quality, which means that while the scene is playing, it's actually very intense, or very funny, but the general sweep is quite cool because the scenes . . . have a sort of beginning, middle and end. I found that out—it seems an obvious point—but I really hadn't realized how he'd worked it, and going into the innards of a play, I began to see why he did that. It's also potentially a very, very popular form because it is really a very simple idea of putting an enter­ tainment forth, yet when the scenes all add up together, there's something enormously complex, but while it's playing, there's nothing complex. And I began to try it—I think that did influence me—a play like The Genius has fewer scenes and they're bigger and some of the scenes are like one-acts. I ended up with a long, quite complicated scene which is simply about a series of treach­ eries, a series of betrayals happening on the stage, which really make a play or maybe even a series of little plays within the one thirty-minute scene. It did strike me as a key to the popular theatre because it cracks this difficulty of plays which are intellec­ tual. Brecht's plays are intellectual, they have a political argu­ ment, they are quite complex, but the story-telling set-up can be so simple."30

In The Genius this epic strategy allows Brenton to focus on differ­ ent aspects of his subject matter. Sometimes these aspects are linked throughout the play, at other times not. For example, scene 4, "Crisis in a Garden," operates both as a piece of the larger whole-play struc­ ture and also introduces a side issue, for one scene only. In this scene Brenton stages an appeal to the university community to take seri­ ously the implications of the geniuses' discoveries. It takes the form of a kind of play within a play, or performance art within theatrical art, or a political demonstration based on street theater techniques. Gillian appears as a victim of nuclear burns. Champagne meant to simulate hydrochloric acid (actually human piss and Alka Seltzer) is offered to the guests. The intent is to shock and to move them to action. Leo and Gilly appeal to the university community to provide

Howard Brenton


a context for their work. Leo puts it in words: "Here we are, teachers and students. Help two of your number deal with the product of their—twisted, bloody, clever clever brains. Protect us. Help us deal with what we've done. Be a university" (26). Of course, the appeal fails, and the university "community" begins a cover-up. In terms of the overall structure of the play, it represents the last attempt to work within the "system," the last appeal to the university, as an institu­ tion, to disengage from its role as state apparatus. But the scene also has a decided metatheatrical text. Often political theater uses "realistic" techniques to gain people's sympathy and commitment. Authentic representation of suffering, torture, and other injustices is meant to increase an audience's empa­ thy for and outrage at oppression. Critics and audience members alike often feel hostility rather than compassion and may complain of being hit over the head or preached to. Audiences for "Crisis in a Garden" have an opportunity to be a real audience to these represen­ tational tactics and also to watch the fictional audience. The scene takes up a discussion of the relative ineffectiveness of realistic mime­ sis.31 Brenton's scene "fails" theatrically as well as within the plot. Yet this aspect of the work will disappear with the end of the scene, and not be rejoined, until the last scene of direct political action represents an alternative to this one. There the political action will not be able to actually achieve the objective of blocking the missiles and becomes itself a kind of political theater that must be judged as such in order to assess its effectiveness. Through such epic structural techniques Brenton is able to achieve the dense layering of material he appreciated in Brecht's work, setting seemingly separate questions in dialectical relation. Written in 1983, The Genius can be seen in very topical terms, as the Trident missiles were arriving in England and women began camping at Greenham Common. In a larger, historical context the play continues Brenton's musings on how to resist in a time of state repression and right-wing hegemony, confronting once again as un­ acceptable the tendency to cave in when there are no "pure" choices. In the final tableau Virginia and Andrea begin to climb over the wire onto the airfield runway in a Greenham Common-style action, while Leo and Gillian exchange binders of their new work and then em­ brace. Geniuses must go on with their work, in fact must work to­ gether—perhaps outside of the university—in a context of political


After Brecht

engagement and alternative community. The crucial last scene of Galileo shows the manuscript safely crossing the border. Brenton in­ sisted that it accompany the bottle of milk: "I was convinced that if Brecht had staged i t . . . the book and the jar of milk would have been together and that there would have been a final knitting in the lines— the price of milk and the book—and I brought them together and re-jiggled the last scene."32 Food and knowledge, opportunity and cost, these connections show Brecht and Brenton's affinities, but Brenton shows us the extension for our time. Bloody Poetry While Brenton has written a number of clearly and obviously "epic plays" such as Weapons of Happiness, The Churchill Play, The Romans in Britain, and Pravda (1985, with David Hare), I have been especially interested in those plays that are not so classically epic but which extend or transform some epic strategies. Bloody Poetry is a case in point, a play that Brenton wrote about the inner life and struggles of a band of would-be Utopians, large-scale figures taken from literaryhistorical myth. A play about the Romantics—Shelley, Byron, Mary Godwin—it is difficult to imagine Brecht writing about this material, until one remembers Baal. Yet, while this play is clearly more lyrical, more personal than any other Brenton play (even Sore Throats), it is also strongly dialectical in structure and design, making full use of alienation techniques and epic juxtaposition to examine the costs of nonconformity as a personal politics and its interaction with state powers of law, "liberty," and empire. The play is complex because it simultaneously evokes and cri­ tiques some traditional attitudes toward art and those who practice it. Shelley and Byron are absolute canonical figures, and respect for their literary achievements marks Brenton's text as well as does impa­ tience and disgust with their irresponsibility and self-indulgence. On the one hand, the ability to change and be different, to break bour­ geois rules, is only theirs because they have money; on the other, the tight order of the bourgeois world holds them in its grip in such a way that the success of any wholly revolutionary goals is unattain­ able. The play celebrates the power and necessity of the human imagi­ nation to see beyond the limitations of the ordinary and to conceive

Howard Brenton


of the extraordinary. Here the Utopian conception consists of a freer, fuller sexuality-in-community—a reworking of the family. Brenton has described the play succinctly: "What Bryon and Shelley and their friends and lovers tried to do was to invent a new kind of family life. They failed, but I love them for their failure. It's a Utopian play. The characters are all, in their different ways, emotional and sexual voy­ agers. They had a conviction, which they couldn't really define, that there is a different way of living. . . just out of reach."33 Nowhere else in Brenton's work is it so clear how sexual desire is part of the complex energy field that makes imagination possible, although in The Genius intellectual passion is linked to sexual passion and, even­ tually, to political passion. In Bloody Poetry the sexual energy is a waste, or a loss, because there is finally no communal issue: Bryon wanders the world looking for political adventure, utterly uncon­ nected from his lusts; Shelley is in exile from an England he cannot reform but whose tentacles can reach and poison his alternative "holy family." Yet the fault is not with sexual desire itself but, rather, with its corruption in a society that does not make a just and suitable place for it. Brenton seems much more embracing and less ambivalent about the positive aspects of sexuality than Brecht, whose representa­ tions of sexuality often seem full of fear and death.34 In the moments of togetherness in the play, symbolized by the making of a circle, a glimpse of a wider community of sexual freedom and equality is just visible. Brenton is always ready, however, to remind us of its costs: Claire: All of us, we will become magnificent. The men and the women of the future will thank us. We're their great experi­ ment. We will find out how to live and love, without fear. Mary: If the money does not run out.35 But, of course, the money does run out, and other complications occur: children accompany sex, and in the play two daughters die of neglect, or at least of not being properly cared for. Clara, Shelley's daughter, dies because he insists on moving her when she is ill; Allegra, Byron's daughter by Claire, dies in the convent to which he was determined to consign her. Shelley writes a protest poem about the Peterloo massacre while Clara dies. Mary asks, "Is the price of a poem—the death of our child?" (74). The insistence on the price— Brecht's relentless equation in Mother Courage, that the price of the

After Brecht


bargain equals the death of a child—is enfolded into Brenton's play as well, similarly materialized into concrete corporeal cost. Through the various dramatic juxtapositions of Bloody Poetry Brenton works at the difficult question of the worth of ideas as against material reality. To some extent it is the dilemma of every intellectual and artist: Is the work that they (we/I) do ever enough, ever direct enough, ever powerful enough, to account for one dram of human suffering and social injustice? Are Utopian visions, in a world that will not support them, more harmful than liberatory? At the end of act 1, Brenton captures the gestus of this condition in the image of Shelley, who cannot swim but who has lied about it, threat­ ened by a storm he underestimated: When will the world marry itself? When will the true family be All of human society? I write poems. But most of the world cannot even read. So what can I do? Act as if I were free. Write, as if I were free. (45-46) Quickly, the seriousness of the speech and of the situation is by­ passed as Bryon punctures Shelley's lament by accusing him of trying to create a heroic episode for them to write up in their diaries. But Brenton has set out the problem with due anguish and then alienated the speaker from the question; Shelley is, in short, not as great as the question he poses. Brenton surpasses Brecht, or at least goes beyond him in the incorporation of subjective consciousness and longing into represen­ tation. While Brenton is careful to frame or objectify this material, Brecht completely mistrusted it (perhaps in The Good Person of Setzuan he approaches the problem, but only cursorily). In Bloody Poetry Bren­ ton achieves a double distancing of his characters through the intro­ duction of Polidori. Sympathy vacillates between Polidori and the principals, causing an audience to shift and evaluate its responses. Polidori, chief commentator on the action, represents a Salieri to Byron and Shelley's Mozart. But, while Peter Shaffer is concerned

Howard Brenton


with the personal psychology of his characters in Amadeus, Brenton is more concerned with how the ordinary perceive the extraordinary and with how much license society affords its gifted artists. Polidori, who has been hired to write an account of Byron's sojourn in Italy for Byron's publisher, constantly reminds us of the status of history as the creation of those who write it. He tries out various ways of writing about the meeting of Shelley and Bryon: he gives vent to his jealousy and resentment in a rhetoric of abusive gossip; he juxtaposes their real and often puerile behavior to their status as artists; most important of all, he watches constantly, and the audience watches him watch. He stands for the ordinary person who wishes s/he were extraordinary. Brenton carefully plots Po­ lidori's scenes and the treatment that he receives from the others to swing audience sympathy with him and against him. He is abused and treated cruelly by the lot, but at other times he seems to be the punishing spirit of England, repressing and harassing them: Dover Beach. Waiting for the packet boat to cross to Calais, and I see them! The Shelley menagerie, women, children, bags of seditious material, fleeing the country. I will not make myself known, I'll dog them. They think they are private, but they are not. These people! Am I condemned to snoop on them, be the nobody at their feast? Very well! I'll gossip. I'll send back tasty bits to the literary magazines. The Shelleys will belong to me! (59) This sustained character ambiguity is crucial to the play. The audi­ ence, in Brechtian fashion, is asked to weigh and watch the activities of the players and make its own judgments. Speaking about the New York production of the play (at the Manhattan Theatre Club), Brenton raised an issue that also plagued the Los Angeles production of The Genius (at the Mark Taper Forum): the seeming difficulty of American actors in main parts that are not sympathetic. About Bloody Poetry Brenton said: "There was an actor, a sweet young man, who was really a method actor, and who wanted to play off emotional responses all the time and to be warm, which is something that seems common to American actors in general. The play needs cold, hard acting, unselfish. And this emotion is some­ thing that is actually criticized in the play. It's about people who are nothing like us. You have to start from that premise; if you don't

After Brecht

you're lost. So the play disappeared into a kind of ill-defined swamp of feelings."36 Brenton characterizes the persistent difficulty of repre­ senting emotions in contemporary theater practice, and, of course, his remark is an acute reminder of the problem Brecht used to have with emotion. It is not that emotion or empathy is bad or shouldn't ever be represented on the stage but, rather, that the emotional can be represented in a dispassionate way, a way that allows the argu­ ment, the ambiguity, and the context to play upon the minds of those in the audience. It is this desired distance, "distanciation," which is crucial for the balance of sympathy and criticism appropriate to Byron and Shelley and also to Leo Lehrer. The kind of acting Brenton wants is Brechtian to the core, but he wants it to go beyond what Brecht attempted: to portray intense feelings and subjective states in such a way that they are visible as agency yet implicated in the social and ideological constructedness of their context. The writing in Bloody Poetry is sometimes fulsome, very extreme (even when not quoting Shelley); however, these effects are system­ atically undercut by irony, humor, or critique. One of the strongest examples of this dramatic technique occurs in the second act. The scene begins with Shelley's genuine yet histrionic grief at the news that his first wife has drowned herself, proceeds to the matter-of-fact necessity that Mary and Bysshe must marry if he is to get charge of his children by Harriet, and then turns to the matter of Shelley's ongoing love affair with Claire. The scene expertly intermingles tragic and comic tones and ends with Mary's summary of the difficulty of bridging word and deed: "The words. Oh you can do the words, can't you, Bysshe. . . Now how about doing the life, kind—kind sir?"(57). The writing in the scene also accomplishes another impor­ tant juxtaposition: the content of the scene is really about Shelley's sexual irresponsibility, but the action of the scene establishes here, perhaps more strongly than any other place in the play, that Mary and Shelley have a complex, equal, and loving relationship. These two aspects problematize the audience's judgment of Shelley. Mary is, in fact, the closest that Brenton comes to giving the play a hero. She alone is aware of the private costs of their experiments, yet she is ready to go forward and risk them, because she believes in trying to make an alternative world. Her strength and good sense help keep whatever precarious balance reigns in the combined house­ holds, and she manages to do without the crippling jealousy that

Howard Brenton


afflicts the "ordinary." She is Brenton's most interesting and impor­ tant woman to date. In fact, she, instead of the poets themselves, contributes to keeping the play's tension between idea and material reality in balance: she legitimates the Utopian quest by her participa­ tion in it.37 Is the play Brechtian? Yes, by reason of its dialectics, its scrupu­ lous attention to character distanciation, its social perspective on pri­ vate experience. Yet, as with all of Brenton's work, it is much more than merely Brechtian, and elegantly represents that aspect of Bren­ ton's work which explores the sociopolitical implications of the psychosexual dynamics at work in personal lives.38 Moscow Gold The key public space of Moscow Gold is the politburo table, on and around which all the action of the play takes place. Three cleaning women, a kind of chorus of "the people," function to relate individ­ ual points of view to the events of the "polis." In fact, the public space here is really the whole former Soviet Union, for which the table is an emblem. Broad, epic, comic, and yet deadly serious, Howard Brenton and Tariq Ali forged a commentary on the 1980s' most dra­ matic new development: perestroika. Vsevolod Meyerhold, and not Brecht, provided the stylistic in­ spiration for this play, although Brenton's thorough understanding of the social gestus and of historicization insure that the play pro­ duces the Brechtian attitude of questioning amazement. Structurally, the play resembles The Good Person of Setzuan in that it leads to an impasse that is self-consciously and theatrically broken, in this case by the authors who provide two endings, a tragic and a comic one, indicating both that history has not yet provided an "ending" and also that the outcome is precariously up for grabs. In Good Person people are sent away thinking about what would be necessary to create a world of social justice, in which good people can live de­ cently; in Moscow Gold people are sent away thinking about what would be necessary to reconstruct successfully a socialist order in the former Soviet Union. After just three years, the terms have already been overtaken by history, although the questions remain. The play was conceived during the period in which Brenton and Ali were working at the Royal Court on Iranian Nights, a satirical


After Brecht

one-act about the Salman Rushdie affair. They talked to John Dexter about the proposed play, and he agreed to direct it. He worked on the project but became ill and died unexpectedly. Barry Kyle, who has directed several of Brenton's shows in the past, took over from Dexter. Talking with Brenton about Dexter's strengths as a director, I remembered what Brenton had said about Dexter's skilled handling of Galileo, a large "operatic" production. This time he stressed: You can't really communicate why John would have done such a good show and why he was such an important man. There are a few theatre stories and a few aphorisms, but they sound very trite.. . . John saw directing as a technician's job; he had a rather lowly view of it. And he was old fashioned, in that he expected actors to come into rehearsal with something to offer. That con­ flicts with the kind of acting that's developed over the last twenty years where you start naked and grow something from the womb of the rehearsal. He didn't have any truck with that. It was always outside in, with him. He was starting the production of Moscow Gold with a ground plan, and talking about external things, and slowly getting to the heart of the play. So it was a very technical approach. As far as he was concerned, the writer gave the life to the show through the text and actors brought their performances in, and he could work with that. But if you didn't offer him anything, then he said, "what could I do?" So he's not like Brook and he's not like a lot of younger directors. Oddly, Meyerhold was like that: he hardly ever discussed acting except for information. . . . Dexter knew a great deal about Mey­ erhold.39 When Barry Kyle took over, they started working from scratch. Kyle is one of the "younger" directors, who works hard in the rehearsal room to define the production. He worked on the set, in advance, however, with designer Stephanos Lazaridis, to plot out the mecha­ nisms of the show in detail, something that was necessary given the compexity and scale of what was attempted. In the prefatory note to the published text Brenton and Ali write: "Moscow Gold tries to explain the present rather than develop a par­ ticular set of theses. In that sense it owes much more to the work of Meyerhold than to Brecht." Pushing to sort out what this distinction

Howard Brenton


meant to Brenton, I asked about a political style, to which he re­ sponded: I think you have to make a certain kind of ship to sail in certain waters, so every time you set the scaffolding up, you set it up a different way. . . . I don't think there's any doctrine about how shows should be made. Partly because you look at the subject, what to do about how to put Gorbachev's career on the stage, and how to represent how he came there, what the stakes in the Soviet Union are, and what the problems have been. Now how you do that—it's unbelievably difficult and if you say, "I am a Brechtian," you're not going to get very far. Brecht represents a parable theatre, which means very clean lines, and a play about the Soviet Union is not going to have clean lines. So you turn elsewhere, need to think of other things.40 The reference to Meyerhold encompasses his emphasis on spectacle and the wide variety of styles and plays and productions he created. Brenton sees the "event replacing the sermon" while retaining a po­ litical character. It is true that Moscow Gold is not a parable in the sense of a demonstration, or lesson, from one context or situation to be applied to another. Brenton thinks Meyerhold more open-ended and anarchic than Brecht and sought out that freedom to carnivalize this treatment rather than contain it. In point of fact, although it is devised with all the pageantry and invent/event-tiveness of a Meyerholdian mise-en-scene, Moscow Gold is also a formal, coherent play text with epic structural lines. Both of the play's two acts begin with a pageant: the first with a 1917 revolu­ tionary collage and the second with the "perestroika pagent," repre­ senting the new revolution under way in 1990. The dismantling of the Berlin Wall is the decisive historical event that marks this change; thus, act 1 is titled "Before the Wall," and act 2 is titled "Beyond the Wall." The last scene of act 1 represents its demolition as a black­ board-like wall with bodies chalked on it is torn through by Berliners in white boiler suits covered in graffiti, which they took off to stand chanting in their underwear the chorus of "I wants" (a vote, a decent flat, a BMW, etc.). In each of the two acts, six scenes juxtapose reflections on making difficult political decisions with "close-ups" of Soviet life, dramatized through the experiences of a Moscow family,


After Brecht

and scenes depicting the social, political, and economic contradic­ tions that threaten the success of reforms. These last are located in two plot strands, one of which is the Gorbachev-Yeltsin conflict and the other, which might be called the "gangster conspiracy," involves conservative party machinations. One of the telling dramaturgical choices, which insures the po­ litical meaning of the play, is the depiction of Gorbachev and his wife Raisa in a nonsentimental pop-realist style, reminiscent, to my mind, of Nixon in China. The scenes dealing with the Russian family, on the other hand, have concrete realism at their core. At the RSC the do­ mestic scene was played downstage in simple candlelight because, Brenton says, "according to Meyerhold, the stage was a public place and any domestic scenes should be off the stage." Thus, a Peter Shaffer-style drama of the famous male protagonist (Gorbachev) see­ ing history through his identity crisis is neatly avoided, while the internal personal reality of living the contradicitons of Soviet society is represented through the lives of Grisha, the KGB policeman, Zoya, his wife and one of the three choral cleaning ladies, his son Boris and Boris's fiancé, Larissa. Almost like a small Arthur Miller-style inter­ lude, when juxtaposed against the other elements of the play, this "personal" material has just the right weight and can be seen politi­ cally—another extension beyond Brecht: the devising of a system of structural counterweights in order to allow for this interlude without losing the critique. While the scaffolding of the play is carefully balanced and almost symmetrical, the overall effect is rather like free-fall: a whirlwind, in which one cannot catch or control it, cannot find the center—of the problem, of the culture, of the political spectrum. The authors eco­ nomically pack the individual scenes with information and tension, producing this effect. For example, the first scene following the 1917 pageant is set at a 1982 politburo meeting. The rise of Gorbachev to power, an account of the typical functioning of the party apparatus at that time, the daily living situation of people in the streets, and a hint of the challenges facing the reformers—all these topics are packed into the scene, which takes places on and around the table at which the "official" government meets. A major through-line of ac­ tion is Gorbachev observing, assessing, and making his move, with the guidance of Andropov. The rest is achieved by various means, including the best social gestus of the show: the three cleaning ladies

Howard Brenton


wheel in coffins from time to time, representing dead (sometimes literally, sometimes only figuratively) leaders. Thus, Brezhnev, at the beginning of the scene, then later Chernenko. When Rashidov, party boss of Uzbekistan, gives a report to the politburo on cotton produc­ tion in that Soviet state, he displays a hundred-page document, but, as he drones on, Gorbachev comments while others sleep: Stalin called the cotton "white gold." So, to clothe the Soviet masses, plough up an entire republic! Grow one crop! Thousands of square kilometres, let the people's white gold stretch horizon to horizon! Result? a monoculture. Farms levelled. The soil ru­ ined. Cotton dust on the wind, wrecking workers' lungs. What is the reality, a thousand miles from this table in Uzbekistan? Dust, dust, poverty and dust. My country, you are magnificent. You never do anything by halves.41 Thus, history is condensed and theatricalized, operating at two lev­ els: while the Uzbekistan past is described and analyzed, the action displays the stagnation and dishonesty of daily governmental opera­ tions: platitudes drone on, while others sleep. The second scene represents one of Moscow's famous queues, of which no one seems to be quite certain what is at the end, what they're waiting for. The two plot strands that oppose reform appear here through the "gangsters" who run the black markets and pro­ vide perks for the Party, and also through Boris Yeltsin, whose argu­ ment with Gorbachev and excessive behavior in the queue illustrate the problems of reforming too fast. In fact, the gangsters stand for conservative opposition, allied as they are with the ruling apparatus and past privilege, while Yelstin, as the great populist, stirs up the people, promises them total change, and refuses to face the com­ plexity that change means. In the first act Gorbachev asks Yeltsin to develop a sense of "timing. Tempo. Pace. Crucial in these situ­ ations" (18). In the second act, their conflict is more serious and more pointed: Yeltsin: We are on the same side, you know. It's me you need. Not the dead forces. Together we could transform this coun­ try. Russia alone could become a paradise. The California of Europe.

Moscow Gold, by Tariq AH and Howard Brenton. Barbican Theatre, September 1990. Directed by Barry Kyle. Photography by Allan Titmuss, courtesy of Howard Brenton.

Howard Brenton


Gorbachev: Look. There goes your mouth again, Boris. We must have no illusions about the free market. There will be social explosions if we put 15 million people out of work. Yeltsin: People would accept temporary unemployment if they trust their leadership. Gorbachev: Don't you have any sense of the dangers involved? What if the poeple don't accept it? Will you give our soldiers the order to open fire on millions of workers rioting for jobs? (83) Yeltsin, in the last scene, has just been elected president of Rus­ sia. Prophetically, Brenton and Ali see this conflict as one of the most difficult to resolve or finesse. The other, the problem of the conserva­ tive gangsters, is complicated by the conservative military and reli­ gious opposition. In the final scenes of the play a conspiracy among those members grows to the point at which one of the play's possible endings involves Gorbachev's assassination by gangsters dressed as Russian orthodox priests. While these two conficts, Yeltsin and the "gangsters," govern the escalation of plot tensions, many other contradictions and difficulties of perestroika mark the work. The rock musicians who appear in the pageant at the beginning of act 2 have swastikas painted on their foreheads, to which Gorbachev reacts, "Get that obscenity off your skulls" (51). But the ethnic and religious hatreds are a nightmare that Gorbachev cannot dispel, along with the remains of the Chernobyl disaster. The choice of contemporary leaders is often, it seems, a choice of evils: let the pogroms in Azerbaijan go unheeded or crack down and shoot one's own people. Gorbachev, agonizing about his decision to crack down on Azerbaijan, reflects on the past: Sixty years. Sixty years the leaders have been staring at some­ thing lying there. In the shit. Barely recognisable. They've not dared to look at it, they've rushed by. Clean the square for the big parade! They never asked, what is that thing, lying there in the shit? They never asked because they knew that the thing lying there, in the shit, is the people. Our people. (63) The politics of this play, from the standpoint of its authors, are as carefully balanced as the plot or as Meyerhold's famous pyramids


After Brecht

(one of which in the opening pageant features Lenin at the top). A straightforward account would go something like this: the ideals of socialism, interpreted through Marx and Lenin, were and are worth achieving. The actuality of really-existing socialism as it came to be in the former USSR was corrupt and, under Stalin, horrendous in its brutality. In the modern era, under Brezhnev and Khrushchev, it became mired in bureaucracy and party privilege. The removal of an authoritarian central government, however, leads to or unleashes a horde of other problems that come with a market economy and socalled democratic freedoms: consumerism, greed, economic hard­ ship, ethnic and religious hatred, chaos. How to have the ideals of socialism, and especially of social justice, and still feed and clothe and unify a huge country becomes the key dilemma, the unanswerable question. The play maintains both a critique of the failures of the Soviet socialist system and a critique of Western-style capitalism; in Yeltsin and the gangsters the dangers of both right-wing and leftwing reactions to reform provide the central conflict of the play. For example, the politics of the "family" scenes are quite mixed. In the first scene the family is mourning the death of the elder son in Af­ ghanistan, his last letter home sounding very much like letters home from Vietnam or, more recently, the Gulf war. The boy's father Grisha works for the KGB, a secret that has been kept from the two sons. Zoya is so distraught over the death of her son that she forces Grisha to tell Boris: Zoya: No one else in your position let their sons go. But not you, oh no. Fifty years a secret policeman. You couldn't abuse your position. . . . He's the only one in there, in Dzerzhinsky Square, who believes in all this. . . . I had to carry on working as a cleaner. You would go to the local school. My Andrei would go to Afghanistan. Your pure, your incorruptible father! Do you know who this man is? He's a torturer. A murderer. Ask him what he's been doing for fifty years. GPU, NKVD, KGB. Doing their dirty work. (23) Grisha tries to explain to Boris how it was that he thought he was doing his duty and the best he could for his country. He was a young Bolshevik and he worked early on purging artists and poets. He did

Howard Brenton


it because he believed the revolution had to saved. He tells stories of the torture of Meyerhold and other artists. He also tells about canni­ balism in the Ukraine under collectivization. His son Boris plans to leave the country, and the last family scene takes place at the airport, where his parents and his fiancé try to convince him to change his mind. Boris is sure things will be great in Italy. He has an "offer" to lecture at the university and a pen as a gift from an Italian TV station, which he thinks is tantamount to a job. Taken in by the lure of the West, he has become a consumer, wanting things like an espresso coffee machine and compact disk player. So he wants to go to Florence, "a city of light" (76). He is critical of the Gorbachev reforms (he feels they are moving too slowly), while his father has become a reform communist: "I'm no bleeding liberal. In my veins there is still some old Bolshevik blood. What frightens me is your delusions. Don't you realize that reform communism is our last chance? Your last chance. If Gorbachev fails even the mountains will weep" (40). Here, then, is a family whose personal history contains the main contradictions of the society. The scene could fall into weepy melo­ drama, but Brenton's (and Ali's) tight control and ability to shape the terms of the contradictions and historical resonance avoid this trap. In their story, a brutal history is acknowledged, and yet the goal of building a just society is maintained against Western-style individual­ ism. This play shares thematic concerns with most of Brenton's other work. Weapons of Happiness is about continuing to struggle even when a revolution fails; Bloody Poetry is about making a mess of the attempt to revolutionize personal life; The Genius is about the proper response to a loss of political innocence. Perhaps most poignant is the continu­ ing question of how to go about pursuing the battle for a better society when it just doesn't go well. Berlin Bertie directly addresses the failure of social reform in the West and state socialism in the East, and Brenton villianizes Brecht in the play by making his name an alias for a deeply cynical, deeply sexist person of no principles whatsoever. Of course, there are some historical facts that support this view of Brecht. It is almost as if he now appears as a nightmarish figure in the dark night of former socialist believers who are examining their consciences or of those who, like Heiner Müller and Christa Wolf, face accusations of col­


After Brecht

laboration with the Stazi. Yet Brenton never gives up on the effort to change, including here, where basic play/creativity/theater becomes the activity of renewal for those beginning again "after Berlin."42 The shape of Berlin Bertie is deceptively realistic: interior, few characters, personal crisis. But the figure of Bertie and the asides to the audience show the limits of realism, employ it to negate it. Ann Wilson has written perceptively about this aspect of the play: "Bren­ ton points to the limits of realism by having characters speak to the audience in asides which break realism's convention of reproducing life exactly because the audience is addressed directly and so is ac­ knowledged."43 In these concerns Brenton shares deeply with Trevor Griffiths: both of them ask for new ways to resist in the midst of failed projects and ideals. They both offer a severe critique of the shortcomings of the Left without ever abandoning their identification with socialism. They do the "in-house" critique, but it's always clear where their commitments lie.

Chapter 2

Edward Bond: Parables for Our Times

It seems at once obligatory and an exercise in redundancy to include a chapter on Edward Bond in this book. Obligatory because he is clearly and self-avowedly a writer who has learned from and fol­ lowed Brecht, while at the same time developing his own specific style and techniques.1 Redundant because his work has already been explored in Brechtian terms by other scholars and critics; much of that work is insightful and still valid.2 In addition, Bond is one of the "senior" playwrights, belonging more appropriately (in terms of chronology) with a grouping of such writers as John Arden, Arnold Wesker, and Ann Jellicoe than to the next wave of writers addressed here—in fact, Edward Bond's early plays influenced many of the younger writers when they were start­ ing out. Nevertheless, I have decided to include a chapter on Bond's 1985 trilogy, The War Plays, and his recent play, In the Company of Men. Not only do they show clearly how the Brechtian legacy still inflects Bond's writing; they also show Bond's originality and depar­ tures from Brecht. Besides, Bond has been writing plays (reckoned from his first play at the Royal Court in 1962)3 for over thirty years. When we think of studying any important playwright who produces a quantity of plays over a long time—Ibsen, for example, or Shaw, or even Brecht, it is immediately apparent that the playwright goes through various phases of work that differentiate the plays. These recent Bond plays indicate a stage in his development as a playwright. The War Plays can be seen as the culmination of a line of work laid out in "The Activist Papers," which commits Bond to confronting the spe­ cifically urgent threat of nuclear annihilation. Philip Roberts, writing in 1981, recognized the relationship of this concern to Bond's work: "The debate, to which his plays contribute, is finally about survival."4 49


After Brecht

The War Plays can be seen as taking this line of inquiry as far as it can go by actually positing a postnuclear society and representing it on­ stage. In the Company of Men also takes up questions of survival and continues to represent a contemporary reality as on-the-brink-of-having-been-over. So there is a common thematic focus in these recent works that seems worth considering as a "latest phase." Critical reception of Edward Bond's work has shifted in recent years. Critics who previously praised his plays highly, both journal­ ists and scholars, have now decided it is too obviously political, too derivative of Brecht, too long.5 The work, however, is not the only thing that has changed: three terms of Thatcherism and two of Rea­ gan have profoundly shifted the climate of reception in England and the United States.6 Bond's critical reception is an aspect of the cultural struggle that takes place in a reactionary period, and it pro­ vides an important gloss on theater work in relation to this his­ torical moment. Because of the chilly critical reception that The War Plays occasioned, they provide an opportunity to examine just what strategies of representation are objectionable and controversial in this period of British theater. Bond worked closely with the RSC production, finally directing the third play himself, exasperated with the RSC's acting traditions and practices. In the case of In the Company of Men, the text was published in 1990, but the premiere actually took place in Paris in 1992.7 Thus, these plays demonstrate ideological tension between author and producer and the sociocul­ tural climate of London theater. These plays hold a particular interest for me because of their speculations on the nature of family life and its social construction. The third play of the War Trilogy, Great Peace, deals almost exclusively with an examination of the bond between mother and child, and In the Company of Men focuses exclusively on fathers and sons and their surrogates. While gender construction in not foregrounded in these plays, and heterosexuality is the only form of sexuality represented, the plays do take on important issues concerning the social construc­ tion of family roles, attacking certain essentialist theories of mother­ ing and opening up a discourse on family life. Thus, this chapter also reflects my own critical interests and, in this regard, should be read as a dialogue with the plays, almost as another form of cultural struggle.

Edward Bond


A Short Reprise on Brecht Edward Bond saw the Berliner Ensemble perform when the group visited England in 1956. He writes, "they were speaking a foreign language and I had no theatrical education, but I recognized his im­ portance then as I'd only done with one other writer, Shakespeare."8 In a workshop (1958-60) with other playwrights (Ann Jellicoe, John Arden, Arnold Wesker, Wole Soyinka, Keith Johnstone), Edward Bond participated in some of William Gaskill's first Brechtian im­ provisations, using The Yea Sayer and The Nay Sayer as source mate­ rial. He wrote two Brechtian sketches himself and began the relation­ ship with Gaskill that resulted in the production of most of his plays at the Royal Court under Gaskill's direction, through Lear (1971). Although Bond has developed many unique skills, including the almost naturalistic transcription of certain working-class idiolects on the one hand and the self-conscious formal play of genre conventions on the other, he has appropriated and developed the main Brechtian techniques that are central to this study. He always historicizes the incidents of the narrative, providing a representation of the social construction of the subject, in scenes with a clear political gestus. Historicizing the incidents may be accomplished either by select­ ing a specific historical context for reexamination and analysis or by creating within a text a series of reference points in the past and future from which to judge the present-time action. In Bingo (1973) and The Fool (1975), specific historical characters, who are also writers (Shakespeare and John Clare), provide an entry point for representa­ tion of the relationship between class tensions and historical change, artistic responsibility and agency. As Jenny Spencer writes, "both [plays] assume a reciprocal relationship between the artist and soci­ ety, made acutely visible against a period of historical transition."9 Similarly, The Woman (1978) evokes the Trojan War and Euripides' versions of it in order to reinterpret received classical meanings by emphasizing concrete historical social and economic relations and their impact on individuals. In a play like Summer (1982),10 in con­ trast, the incidents of the narrative are alienated and historicized by the forced oscillation between the contexts of past and present. Set in an eastern European country, the characters examine and shape their present and future in conjunction with their different class and


After Brecht

gender positions from a shared World War II past. The Nazi occupa­ tion of the country, and the various levels of victimization and op­ pression that the characters experienced, become refigured (or not) in light of the present-time events of the narrative and the "young people's" goals for the future.11 This is Bond's way of doing presenthistory, a technique that also marks the temporal strategies of The War Plays. Bond establishes the social construction of the subject by using many different character strategies. In Restoration (1981), he config­ ures Rose as black in order to allude through her to the knowledge of the history of slavery that informs her position in the play as the one most capable of understanding and resistance. Her ability to see through Lord Are and the aristocratic social codes of Restoration comedy position her as actor/character capable of agency, of making a concrete difference, if not within the plot, within the world of the possible-otherwise or in the future: what Spencer has correctly re­ lated to Brecht's "Not/But."12 Being one of Bond's most Brechtian plays, Restoration illustrates the reworking of character types from previous dramatic genres in order to foreground their ideological construction as subject positions within a given sociocultural ma­ trix.13 In a more naturalistic play such as Saved (1965), the scenes repre­ senting Len and his associates in relationship to their social context provide some scenes from their public life that situate their private behaviors and make visible both the determinants and the (limited) range of individual choices and responses available to different mem­ bers of the underclass. W. B. Worthen writes that "characteriza­ tion . . . directly confronts the privilege of the 'self' as a social phe­ nomenon."14Bond insists that at the end Len has performed something positive in mending the chair; this interpretation is credible if his behavior is seen in distinction to that of others in his social cohort, within the range of the "really possible."15 Another contrastive strat­ egy in Bond's work foregrounds the contradictions within characters, sometimes embodied in an actual double (Lear /Gravedigger's Boy, Lear [1971]; Arthur / George, Early Morning [1968]).16 Physically con­ figured relations between past and present, freedom and responsibil­ ity, time and space, these staged contradictions graphically embody the multiplicity of subjectivity and its subjection to time. With all of

Edward Bond


these techniques, Bond struggles to provide an account of characters as moved by forces of history. He writes: "I have to show not 'indi­ vidual' psychology but 'social' psychology—that is, psychology po­ litically determined. But there has to be a psychology to the charac­ ter—or it isn't full, it's schematic, and this alters the playing of rela­ tionships."17 Like Brenton, Bond has wanted to move beyond Brecht to get at a fuller representation of character. He created what he has called "aggro-effects"—images of violence that often allow a charac­ ter to break rationality, forcing the spectator to confront the limits of logical characterization. Recently, he has further refined this notion into TEs (Theater Events). Finally, and probably partially as a result of learning Brecht through working closely with William Gaskill, Bond has developed the ability to render scenes' political meanings by finding a strong central physical gestus. Peter Holland has elaborated this technique in the aforementioned essay, emphasizing the link between action and object in plays ranging from Saved to The Fool. In Restoration it is the silver that Frank steals or the document that could save Frank if his mother could but read it, both of which produce the staging of a scenic social gestus, which makes explicit the social organization on Lord Are's estate. In both The War Plays and In the Company of Men this attention to the relation between object and act constitutes the theatrical spine of the mise-en-sc^ne.18 The War Plays Critics have considered The War Plays Brechtian almost exclusively on the basis of their formal characteristics. Like the Brechtian Lehrstücke, they are overtly "learning plays," in that they present the current society and the social conditions of war in order that we may involve ourselves in the process of theater-as-learning in order to act to prevent the conflagration. A series of choruses and direct address speeches to the audience set forth aspects of the narrative and major reflections on it. Thus, the actors are implicated, through the ambigu­ ity of direct address, in conversation with the audience: "As nature doesn't define what shall make us angry /We define ourselves by the things we permit to make us angry /If we choose these wrongly or are wrongly taught we are blind with rage even when we're most calm."19 These speeches and choruses usually begin or end a scene,

After Brecht


providing commentary on it, although sometimes the comment can come in the middle of an otherwise realistic representation, such as scene 10 in the third play, Great Peace. In the main action the Woman abandons the newborn child after helping its mother to give birth before she died. While talking to the child, the Woman comments on mothering under these circumstances: I lived in the burnin 'ouse: the street was 'otter outside With one 'and I beat out the flames on my dress and nursed me kid with the other It got used t'the stink of scorchin and charrin: it developed a little cough from the smoke That's 'ow we nurse kids now20 The speech is both part of the Woman's address to the child and part of her address to the audience about the conditions under which she was a mother: as she cannot protect her child from the "fire," it will survive with some permanent damage. This technique opens the text to a simultaneous reading on two levels, as narrative and as parable. This triangular relationship between audience, character, and actor is especially evident here, since it isn't clear whether the actor or the character is making the commentary. The use of the term parable in the title of this chapter links these plays to Brecht's "Parables for the Theatre." A parable sets out a particular model of the world, usually Utopian or dystopian, in order to construct a parallel between the posited world and our own. Brecht's great parable plays are The Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Good Person of Setzuan, but many of the other plays also function as parables, from A Man's a Man to Puntila and His Hired Man Matti. The War Plays fit the description of a parable, although Bond stretches the form to accommodate a peculiar futurism. First, the present contem­ porary world participates in the constructed world of the trilogy. The first play, Red Black and Ignorant, is placed just ahead of us in time— the scenes dramatized are both what bring the world to nuclear con­ frontation and yet also what is happening "as we speak." This strange time status is established in the introduction, narrated by a monster. The Monster is an unborn baby, ripped from the womb and

Edward Bond


thrown into the fire when the bombs fall. The Monster establishes that this event is contemporary: "Now we will show scenes from the life I did not live / If what happens seems such that human beings would not allow it to happen you have not read the histories of your times" (RBI 6).21 The Monster is a visible product of both the holo­ caust and of the conditions that are producing it. He is an image of what is being done to him within the play. He is also an image of the misfit and misplaced one who, because of his knowledge and stillexisting sensitivity, is a monster in a world in which the monstrous has become normalized. Bond's peculiar and equivocal time allows the parable to keep the urgency of the present as part of the projected future. The nuclear devastation of the play is not something that will come in some distant future but, rather, that of which we are on the very brink, in Bond's view. The continuum of social actions constitut­ ing our world and the Monster's includes the gradual escalation of nuclear menace into nuclear annihilation. The construction of the plays does not allow the audience to locate a precise moment at which "things went too far" or a single specific reason or event as the "cause" of conflagration. Although The War Plays constitute a parable, they are severely constrained in their notion of Utopia. The plays relativize the mean­ ing of Utopia by showing various limited conceptions that people develop in relation to their experience. Thus, the Tin Can People think they have built paradise "in the ruins of hell," but they are still in the grip of the fear of scarcity and their notions of prosperity still come from the previous destructive era: "We'll have the good life— our own swimming pools. . . " (TCP 46). In the end the unrevised emphasis on individual property and commodity fetishism destroys this fledgling society, because it was not yet able to think beyond the terms of the previous social system.22 Even in Great Peace, in which Bond does portray the possibility of a new society forming, which learns from the old and yet does not duplicate its values, the vision of the ideal life is not total. The people are learning slowly how to organize themselves into a just society. The daughter tells the Woman that they are inexperienced, starting over: "Its like watchin babies: they babble and dont know that one day their noise'll be words" (GP 53). The trilogy represents a path of inquiry and discov­ ery, rather than a fully formed conception of an ideal world. At the end of The Tin Can People, the survivors start over without tins. "Now

After Brecht


no tins—so we can only own what we make and wear and use our­ selves. That's the only difference—but it means that at last we own ourselves" (TCP 51). So, in part, a traditional socialist ideal is held out, but it is tempered with the implication that much of what has been done in the past cannot simply be undone in the present. The complete destruction of the previous system must precede the build­ ing of the new, and the shape of a new society is an open question: "We can only tell you: you must create justice" (TCP 50). Problems representing time and teleology figure heavily in Brecht's work. The elaborate framing of Caucasian Chalk Circle ad­ dresses the "present" from a vision of the future and a reinterpreta­ tion of the past. Since it is just a story, the impossible but desired new order of Grusha and Azdak can be figured as a horizon of possibility. Even so, Brecht seems prescriptive and romantic. Bond, on the other hand, has found a way to point to a better future without reifying it as a program. In addition to thematic issues, Bond recalls Brecht in matters of language and staging. The plays are written in verse. The compact, concrete quality of the language restrains the melodrama of the de­ structive imagery and conveys the cognitive discipline necessary to ponder the questions raised. Yet it is also suitable for the practical usage of everyday speech for the characters.23 As part of the parabolic structure, its quality of direct address often recalls Brecht's poetry. Compare, for example, the following two texts: You who live in barbarous times Under rulers with redness on their hands, blackness in their hearts and ignorance in their minds Everything before your time was the childhood of humankind With the new weapons that age passed But you went on building your house with bricks that were already on fire. (RBI 19) You who will emerge from the flood In which we have gone under Remember

Edward Bond


When you speak of our failings The dark time too Which you have escaped. For we went, changing countries oftener than our shoes Through the ward of the classes, despairing When there was injustice only, and no rebellion. "To Those Born Later"24 The tone and style of these verses are very similar. As exhorta­ tion, or perhaps reflection-in-retrospect, they are personal and im­ personal, general and yet particular, elevated and also prosaic. The staging conventions for the trilogy specify an absence of setting, relying on props and a bench to represent the various locales and actions of the text. The fluidity and openness of the space not only underscores the apparatus of the theater (an aspect of epic stag­ ing which, to my mind, has become so commonplace as to be histori­ cally overtaken by its ubiquity, losing any true critical edge) but also functions as a posited, imaginary space appropriate to the represen­ tation of parable. As with the paradigmatic Brechtian scene, Bond's scenes stand alone, having a main action, such as "the parents sell their child" or "the soldiers destroy the bundle and themselves" or "the Woman nurses Mother 2."25 Certain crucial objects become the image of crucial concepts: the loaf of bread is both literal and figura­ tive nourishment, while the tin cans represent "processed" food; the various scarves used to wrap the babies become the image of the means of caring for the young. The condition of scarcity underlies these images and is continually reinforced in the text: "Ten naked children huddled under one sheet /The parents pull at the sheet to stretch it to cover the children /The sheet is torn to tatters and blown away in the wind" (RBI 14). The physical image of tearing—a shirt, a scarf, the bundle/baby/sheet—provides a central gest of struggle over the means of caring for human life, which ends in destruction. The purpose of these strategies and others that are unique to Bond is to get the audience engaged in an active way. Bond shares Brecht's insistence on curious, questioning spectatorship. The Brecht­ ian resonance is most clear in Bond's comments from an interview dating back to 1971:


After Brecht

The War Plays, by Edward Bond. Teatro da Cornucopia, Lisbon, 1987. Photo­ graph courtesy of Edward Bond.

Perhaps they [the audience] should be asking, are these facts really so? And if they are, we must find out more about them, and do something about them. I would like people to have seen something that they might have read about in a newspaper, or even have been involved in, but not really understood—because they see it from a partial point of view, or whatever—suddenly to be able to see it whole, and to be able to say, well, now I can understand all the pressures that went into the making of that tragedy: when I come to judge that situation, my judgment will be more accurate, and therefore the action I take more appropri­ ate. And I would like them to be so strongly moved as to want to take action.26 The three plays form a triptych, which is to say they form both three separate figurations of reality, read separately, and also blend into one continuous whole, read together. The combined impact of both aspects of the trilogy provides a critique of our time and a gen­ eral image of human sociality.

Edward Bond


The first play, read by itself, represents the interpellation of dominant discourse in personal subjectivity. Through the scenes of the Monster's "socialization," Bond shows how human beings are deformed in the innermost spaces of their personal lives, becoming part of the ruling hegemony leading to war. Scene 7, "The Army," provides a summary image of the play as a whole. The parents dress the son in his army uniform, give him his helmet and rifle, while he sings about his transformation into the army: I am the army My legs are made of tanks My arms are made of guns My trunk is made of nukes My head is made of bombs I am the army (RBI 14) The Monster has tried to give his son a sense of justice and morality, but the structure of the society continually makes it absurd for the boy to follow his teachings. In scene 6, "Work," the boy is faced with an ethical dilemma—whether or not to help the woman trapped un­ der the beam get free, knowing she will go to the factory and take the job he also needs and wants. The Monster castigates his son for his behavior and frees the woman: "You'd let a friend's leg be broken so that you could get work? Monstrous!" (RBI 13). But the "righteous­ ness" of that act is not so clear. The son addresses our judgment: You would call my father good and me evil No, the pittance paid to the workless ensures that all seek work The government rules by creating two classes of citizen I am second class: I have no work I cant afford to behave as if I were first class (RBI 13) The scarcity of jobs turns the boy into a job scavenger. He is constructed as a subject through these experiences to seek his indi­ vidual gain, for there is no ground of justice or equality to support


After Brecht

him in a communal ethic. Similarly, in scene 4, "Eating," the Monster abuses his wife and ruins their food because of a fight over reading a book. His wife sees it as a luxury that they cannot afford; he experi­ ences her as deliberately forbidding him the things that matter. The argument emerges from their feelings of deprivation; the economic turns into and infects the personal. In the final scene the Monster's son is in the army because he failed to get the factory job in scene 6. Thus, his father is complicitous in his conscription through the "hu­ manitarian" action of freeing the woman.27 The next stage in the logic of the system has been reached: the son is under orders to kill one person on his street in an attempt to forestall food riots in the face of a famine brought on by government spending on defense: "Even as they lay in their silos the rockets destroyed the societies they were said to protect." The son goes to the old people who live in the house on the corner to kill the old man, but he cannot kill him. He comes home and kills his father instead. This act, coming at the extremity of his transformation into "army," is a trope in the trilogy for the moment of refusal and change. Even though it involves self-destruc­ tion, it is the moment of resistance to ideological interpellation. When the only means of resisting domination involves self-destruction, however, it is perhaps too late for our time. This is why the Monster is dead and the scenes we have been seeing are representations of the life he would have led but did not. Seen separately, this play is about the last moment of free per­ sonal choice, the last chance to turn back from destruction. "Praise him as you would the first wheel," says the Monster. The son would not give up the name of human, which was what was at stake. "All that is needed is to define rightly what it is to be human /If we define it wrongly we die /If we define it and teach it rightly we shall live" (RBI 18). By itself, this play is a figure for a world on the brink of destruction. The possibility for change exists but is all but impossible, and the cost is very high. The hinge between this play and the other two lies in the question: How much change is necessary, and of what kind, before a new society can begin? The second play, The Tin Can People, presents an image of sur­ vival after nuclear destruction. The public debates about whether or not anyone would survive a nuclear war are undercut in this play by shifting the emphasis from survival to legacy—that is, the legacy of the past to those who might survive. The Tin Can People think they

Edward Bond


can build a paradise on the ruins of the old society, but they are inscribed in the codes and practices of the dead social order and reenact those patterns. The tin cans, which are stockpiled in ware­ houses, insure that this new society will not suffer the scarcity of the old, but they are also the visible sign of the previous culture, with its emphasis on possession and greed. The survivors still think of them­ selves as continuing the old way of life and mistake the absence of scarcity for the presence of new values. When the "new man" ap­ pears, different it seems because of his long wanderings alone and lessons of self-survival, they initially welcome him only to displace on him and reenact the behavior of the dead culture toward "differ­ ence." When a mysterious disease strikes down the survivors, they project blame for the disease onto the newcomer, even though some­ one died before he arrived. This lack of reason produces a growing fever among the people to kill the new man, after attributing to him all the motivations of their own paranoia: "Suppose he blackmailed us? /Moved into our houses so we had to move out /He could go to the stores and contaminate our tins" (TCP 42).28 The play shows the gradual panic that overtakes the people, leading to the tin can riots, in which people stuff themselves with food in an effort to hold off the plague. The ultimate gest of life under capitalism: get as much for yourself as possible because of the con­ stant fear that there won't be enough to live—the mistaken notion that more is always better. The play is an extended Brechtian gestus of this social relation, the equivalent to the scene in Mahagonny of eating to death and of the Threepenny Opera song, "Food is the first thing; Morals follow on." The people turn on themselves, fighting over a shirt, abusing the bodies of the dead. The Third Chorus inter­ rupts this action to engage the audience in some analysis. Given what people experienced before the bombs were dropped, the lack of truth and justice in their lives, perhaps we ask too much of people: "Yet you asked them to practice virtue when they worked for thieves /Be philosophers when they lived in noisy blocks where no one could think." Rather, the chorus suggests, one should ponder how it was not worse, how it was that people did not act out more violence: "Wonder that not till the bombs were dropped did these people run mad" (TCP 47). In the second section of the play, having destroyed the tins and exhausted the madness of their first reaction, the people wound but


After Brecht

do not kill the new man. He is explicitly pictured like a baby, "The First Man lies on his back—his arms and legs move slowly like an upturned tortoise's. Third Man: Look he's like a baby: nurse him" (TCP 50). The third section leaves the survivors at the beginning of their attempt to start over and learn how to create a changed future. Now that the tins are gone, they will "own themselves" and make their own lives. They will try to learn from their mistakes and from the things they know about the past. If they survive, future genera­ tions will look back on them, "and bombs'll be as old to them as stone axes are to us" (TCP 51). Great Peace, the third play, is in large part a recapitulation of the first two. It combines the time just before the bombs were dropped with a time beginning seventeen years later when another attempt is made to colonize the "wilderness." The order to choose and kill an­ other, this time a child, reappears.29 As in Red Black and Ignorant, the soldier cannot kill the neighbor's child and instead kills one of his own, his own brother. Seventeen years later his mother, wandering in the wilderness with a bundle she treats as her baby, meets her son's regiment (he has been killed for refusing an order to pick up a cigarette packet shortly after the first bombs fell). They say they don't kill anymore, that she's safe with them, but in the course of the scene they destroy her bundle, symbolically killing the baby, and finally destroy themselves. They have, like the Tin Can People, carried the old ways with them. Pemberton, their senior soldier, explains to the woman, "Its odd, alot of the time we still do what we used t'do / That's why it ain easy t'know when you're dead" (GP 31). In fact, the soldiers think they are dead and prefer that state to what life had come to be: "When yer realize you're dead its like droppin a 'od-load of bricks off yer back / Or losin a sack of clay / Yer grow tall with relief" (GP 34). They examine and destroy the bundle in order to reassure themselves that the bundle is not alive and to make the Woman acknowledge it in order to affirm their own "death." The gestus of murder/ripping/emptying is one of Bond's strongest aggroeffects—in spite of the fact that the baby is just a sheet. In fact, the conferred value rather than a naturalized sense of violated human life is the theatrical emphasis here. In the end the soldiers ask to be shot, to be "corpsed": "I aint goin't'change /I'm dead—or I soon will be—" (GP 40). Pemberton shoots them almost automatically to reestablish his own authority and to punish them, to teach them a lesson—the

Edward Bond


same reasons of military discipline for which the son was shot before. The scene establishes the point at which the distinction between life and death is meaningless. The soldiers are living dead, the bundle is more real than they (as if to prove this, it "speaks" in the next scene). The deadness of these survivors is similar to the inability of the Tin Can People to escape their past; an automatic set of programmed responses lingers, like radiation that shows up years later after all visible signs have passed. In a previous scene the Woman acts in the "old way" and so abandons a living child, at whose birth she assisted, in order to pro­ tect her own child, the bundle. The irony is less in the contrast be­ tween dead and alive babies than it is in the methodical way the Woman rationalizes taking the baby's objects for her own child: "Look at yer smothered in gear—my baby 'asnt got an 'a t . . . yer could spare it that 'at—it didnt ask—I asked for it—its good t'give— start as yer mean t'go on—there's a good kid—thank you" (GP 29). Taking the baby's hat and also her shawl, the Woman covers the act of acquisition with the mythology of sharing. The Woman begins to learn new ways of living when she agrees to take care of a sick Woman who appears with her daughter, "some years later." The Woman accepts responsibility for Mother 2, and allows the bundle to be the pillow for the sick woman's head. When the daughter returns with other people who have established a settle­ ment a long way off, Mother 2 tells her daughter that the Woman "took care of me like me own mother" (GP 51). The Woman, how­ ever, cannot accompany the others back to the settlement and leave the wilderness. The burdens of the past are too great. She imagines that one of the men in the settlement is her son; she cannot forget what he did to her child and, for that matter, her own complicity in the savagery of the time. For this part of the discussion we must return to the beginning of the play. If we follow the actions of the Woman through the play, we discover her history of equivocal behaviors. The first eight scenes (out of twenty) deal with the effect of the order to kill a child on the mother and her son. Bond sketches in quick succession the situation of the soldiers given the order, the conditions under which the civili­ zation population has been living, and the particular dilemma for the Mother and Son. The soldiers are ordered to cut down on the civiliza­ tion population vying for food by killing one child under the age of


After Brecht

Alda Rodrigues as the Woman in The War Plays, Teatro da Cornuco­ pia, Lisbon, 1987. Photograph courtesy of Edward Bond. five in their neighborhoods. In the neighborhood "neighbors" exploit one another for the sake of their own families and live in terror. The Woman takes care of Mother l's child. Mother 1 works to support her child, her husband having been arrested for handing out leaflets. While the Woman takes care of Mother l's baby in the same manner as her own, she also uses the situation to make profit from Mother l's necessity, asking for more money to look after the child, knowing that Mother 1 has no choice. When the Son first tells the Woman what he has been sent to do, she is appalled and defiant, "You wont 'arm these children—not even touch 'em—in my house." But, as the Woman comes to see that there is no easy way to avoid the order, she changes her stance. First, she tries to support her son in killing Mother l's baby, attempting to "cover" for him by diverting Mother l's suspicions. She is prepared to rationalize the deed: "You did it for our sake /You're a good boy." When she learns he didn't kill it, she berates him for not being more like his friend Pemberton (who not only killed his child but also "made a buck" by taking money not to kill a particular child). Finally, in desperation she goes to Mother l's house, determined to kill the


Edward Bond

child herself, but the child is gone. To her own child she says, "Im not cruel—cold—'ard—cunning enough t'be a mother" (GP 17). The Son kills his own brother when the Woman is out of the room wash­ ing his shirt. The last scene in this section portrays the Son, after the deed, as mad, obsessed with killing: "'E 's Corpse-'appy." The sol­ diers are now shooting civilian prisoners in a quarry. The war is over and they have "won." The Son refuses an order to pick up an empty cigarette packet and is shot. Seventeen years later the Woman automatically sacrifices an­ other child to her bundle because of a notion of mothering carried over from the time of the war. At the end of the play she is still incapable of forgiving her son for killing the baby and still incapable of sorting out her own inhumanity. The Manfrom thesettlement comes back to the wilderness to try to convince her toreturn with him. He argues with her about her judgment of her son: Tell me If the men '00 dropped the bombs'd bin like your son they'd've dropped them on their own kids Yer dont want sons like that Yer want your sons t'be ordinary killers so yer can be good mothers Tell me, Im waitin. (GP 60) But she responds, "I dont know, I dont know," and, even though he offers to stay and help her understand why the Son killed the child, she won't accept his offer and insists on being left in the wilder­ ness. In the final tableau the Man returns a year later and sees the Woman's bones, lying on the coat he left for her. Why is it fitting that the Woman refuses his offer? In the closing paragraph of his "Commentary on the War Plays" Bond answers: "When the Woman abandoned the baby to die she drew the plans of the city for it in the dust. She goes away from the city to be one of its foundations. I wanted her to come back, but it was not time" (363). If the trilogy is viewed in its entirety, an Aeschylean motif emerges most starkly: that knowledge and wisdom only emerge through time, and each stage of development can only achieve the insights of its


After Brecht

particular moment.30 The primary figure for human change is the child, both its birth and nurture. The first play thus presents the contradiction that is not adequately resolved until the final play, that we go to extraordinary lengths to nurture our children in their every­ day lives while simultaneously killing them. The social roles inscribed in contemporary culture distort the parent-child relationship by creating a gap between a mythical world of unselfish care and generosity and a reality controlled by fear of scarcity, self-interest, and exploitation. Once these practices are ac­ quired they determine our reactions and responses to one another throughout life. While change is possible, these ways of behaving deform us, damage us like the baby who develops the cough from nursing in the fire. So grave is our current situation, and so deeply embedded are these practices, that no Utopian tomorrow can be pos­ ited without allowing for the huge struggle and cost of transforma­ tion. This is why Bond's trilogy is not, strictly speaking, Utopian: a pessimism about our own generation's potential for change is in­ scribed in the narrative—most acutely in the behavior of the Tin Can People and in that of the Woman at the end of Great Peace. When the plays are viewed together, several details emerge that reinforce this reading. First, individual acts such as the Monster's son's refusal to kill the old man and the Son's refusal to kill the neighbor's baby, while admirable and first steps toward transforma­ tion, are not able to prevent the conflagration. It would be bourgeois individualism to see those acts as the beginning of the revolution, a naive notion that separate individuals can, on their own, come to consciousness and achieve social change. Second, the Tin Can People do not manage to start a new community that survives. This is clear because the woman who gives birth to the baby abandoned by the Woman in Great Peace identifies herself as part of the Tin Can People. She and the First Man were able to start new life but not sustain it, and the other survivors have all died (the original surviving men were sterile). This fact reinforces the difficulty of starting over, even when the past ways of living are repudiated. Third, those who make up the settlement that is beginning to sustain itself in the third play are mostly young people, who were children themselves instead of fully formed adults at the time of the war. This youthfulness, when compared to those who have lived the past fully (and are "dead," literally or figuratively), seems to be part of their hope for building a

Edward Bond


future. Thus, the all-over design of the trilogy emphasizes the time necessary for real human transformation to take hold. Beyond the emphasis on the unfolding in time of transformative possibility, the War Play triptych also raises into strong relief the figure of the mother/child. The plays problematize the nature of motherhood itself, raising such questions as, What is a good mother? Is it always "natural" to defend and protect your children? What contribution has mothering made to our present drastic state of af­ fairs? Edward Bond has not written a feminist play—that must be said at the outset. The trilogy does not question the social positioning of gender roles. In fact, he inscribes the very differences between men and women that Simone de Beauvoir has identified as the two "na­ tures" of men and women under patriarchy, men always transcen­ dent, women immanent.31 The women in the plays are represented as doing traditional tasks such as cooking or washing, not only in the "early" scenes but all the way through the play. In the last play the men do the "labor," making and repairing things, designing the com­ munity. Men are also responsible for most of the serious questioning, ethical or otherwise. The Monster resists his son's order to kill the neighbor; his wife's main concern is protecting her own. The final indication of a transformed community includes an expanded notion of family beyond the nuclear unit but no specific critique of gender. Having said that, however, two aspects of the play may be said to be feminist. The first is the treatment of women as serious agents of history, responsible for internalizing and teaching the dominant discourse of the patriarchy. The second is the deconstruction of the notion of "natural" mother, with its associations of an instinctual bond between mother and child based on birth and its replacement with a notion of community nurture in which people play mothering roles to one another, apart from the criteria of biology. The first aspect is self-evident and needs little additional comment beyond the observation that traditional bourgeois drama has often represented women as no more than props for the active male protagonists' deeds on the stage of history—true from Hamlet to Look Back in Anger.32 Thus, to represent women as equally responsible for the course of history in political and ethical terms is relatively recent and an advance. The second aspect is more important to the discussion of a trans­


After Brecht

formed world. While parenting might be said to be the larger context of this discussion, the figure mother/child is dominant in the trilogy and, I would argue, is the crucial image to be redefined in it. The opening moments of the first play show the mother/child dyad (the Monster and his mother). The plays move from a critique of a rela­ tionship between mother and child that is based on property rights and self-interest toward a definition of mothering that is relational between human beings, not limited by age or blood ties and not restricted to one child, one mother. The plays make an equation between death and certain forms of living, implying that, through inhuman acts, people can lose their humanity and become living death. As noted earlier, the Monster recognizes such a crucial and definitive implication in his son's choice of murder victim. "We know ourself and say: I cannot give up the name of human" (RBI 18). The soldiers in Great Peace have lost the ability to tell the difference between living and dead, as has the Woman, until she gradually recovers her ability to discriminate, per­ haps the first step toward transformation. Thus, the introduction to the first play sets up a contrast between the world we wish for our children—safe, healthy, welcoming—and the present world ("But now we kill them"). The play then shows the contradictions in our present forms of nurture. Mothers who prefer their sons to kill the neighbors instead of their own families are perhaps not loving after all; in fact, they are contributing to a level of inhumanity that can only mean and lead to death. That the Monster's wife is trying to carry out her mothering function is clear from the intertwining of concrete caretaking with the offer to help her son commit murder: Go and do it I'll help you with your jacket There, I'll fasten the buttons My boy I'll help you as I did when you were a child I'll always be here to help you whenever you need me I'll go with you to the corner house Look: a loose button that must be sewn on when you come back There isnt time now.

Edward Bond


Thus, the scene alienates caretaking to raise the question, What does it mean to say, "I'll help you whenever you need me"? What consti­ tutes real help in a situation like this? The Tin Can People has no children in it, since it represents that time after the nuclear conflagration when the possibility for new life and social transformation is beyond its grasp. The sterility is a meta­ phor for the moral and political bankruptcy that once "attained," cannot be easily overturned. The closing image of the play reintro­ duces the possibility of new life in the image of the wounded man being nursed as a baby. And from the hindsight of the third play we learn that the First Man and Mother 1 were able to conceive new life before their community died out. The third play, Great Peace, returns to the issue of genuine moth­ ering and extends the critique in a more radical way than the first. The Woman duplicates the actions of the Monster's wife in her reac­ tions to the son's order to kill. This time the order is to kill a child, and the neighbor's baby is the physical equivalent to her own—the same sex, the same age. Again the concrete caretaking actions of mothering—going to the shop to buy the son cigarettes, washing his shirt—are interwoven with her efforts to obtain the death of the other woman's child. In anger she wishes her son were more like his inhu­ man friend, Pemberton. A good son wouldn't even tell his mother, would simply do the deed. This desire to be ignorant of reality is part of the myth of "protecting" the mother, the counterpart to protecting the child. The Woman is horrified when her son kills his brother in place of the neighbor's child. Years later she still can't forgive him, "It's too close! Its out of nature!" (GP 60). It is just this notion of the prece­ dence of the natural that is questioned. In this third play several other models of mothering are celebrated: the Woman helps Mother 2, sacrificing her bundle to be the pillow for Mother 2's head, and takes care of her like a mother. The Daughter tells the Woman that she could be a mother to her too: "I need two in the world I was born in." The Woman is touched by the possibility but says, "I wish I'd known you before. . . now it's too late" (GP 54). When the Man tries to persuade the Woman to give up the wilderness and come into the community, they have a confrontation about the Woman's notion of mothering:

After Brecht


Woman: You're not my son? Good!—we don't 'ave t'speak t'each other! Clear off an let me be a 'uman mother 'oo only gave birth t'uman kids! Man: If that's'ow yer treat your son Im glad Im not 'im! Yer make me responsible for 'alf the world's misery—no, all of it!—then tell me t'clear off! I pity any kid of yours! (GP 59) This Man whom the Woman mistakes for her son is willing to be a son to the Woman, if she will come back to the settlement and join the community. "I'd be your son /'Ow yer wanted 'im t'be—I'd try." The offer is refused, but the Woman makes a very important statement about her bundle: "The bundle wasnt my kid /It was the other kid / Or the kids in the ruins" (GP 62). The Woman is finally able to see the act of nurturing as having multiple recipients, no essential exclusivity based on biology. The settlement community is represented in only one scene. In fairness to Bond, it is not so clear that the Daughter prepared the meal and that the men are involved in laying the table and cleaning up. The interdependency of this new society is clear: they will all take care of the sick woman, repairing her furniture or fixing up her room. The Man's children call the Daughter their "wilderness aunt," imply­ ing responsibility for nurture without linking the Daughter to the Man as a couple recreating a nuclear family. Thus, the direction of the new society struggling to establish itself is toward a redefinition of mother/child to mean the caretaking of the community for one another, beyond property, beyond blood, toward peace and justice. In the Company of Men The War Plays provide the most developed example of Brechtian writ­ ing in Bond's canon. In the Company of Men complements the philo­ sophical questions of the war trilogy through alternative theatrical means. It is not so much that the play shows no Brechtian elements; the use of social gestus and epic scene construction are everywhere apparent. Rather, in Bond's search for ways to represent human be­ ings in social action and crisis, he moves beyond Brecht. In the Com­

Edward Bond


pany of Men is closer in style and mood to Beckett; in fact, it is perhaps what Beckett might have looked like with politics added. I am aware that my perceptions of the play may be radically shaped by Alain Frangon's production, which I saw in Paris in October 1992 and which perfectly combined epic staging with Beckettian minimalism to forge an appropriate playing style for the text.33 In the Company of Men, like The War Plays, explores relations of parenting, although the crucial site of exploration shifts from mother­ ing to fathering.34 There are no women in the play nor, seemingly, in the lives of the male characters within the play. Leonard is an orphan; both his biological mother and his adoptive mother are dead. The play concerns his relationship to his adoptive father, an interna­ tional arms manufacturer. Through the power struggles of business, inheritance, and control, the men in the play display the sterile arid­ ity of late capitalism. Like The War Plays, this play seems to create a world poised between present and future, strangely surreal yet al­ ready existing. In nine scenes called "units," Leonard defines himself as his father's son. He attempts, first, to circumvent Oldfield's control by going behind his back in a business venture, then to kill his father with one of the firm's new weapons, then to reject his father's life entirely, then to manipulate his father and beat him at his own game, and, finally, to end his own life without continuing his father's leg­ acy. Each of these actions proves variously futile; with each step the audience is led to interrogate the motives and also the possibilities and the logic that are available to the younger Oldfield. The central dilemma of the War Trilogy, based on Bond's Palermo Improvisations, was about the possibility of choosing not to follow orders and kill a child. Here the dilemma posits the relative innocence of Leonard against the lack of a range of uncorrupt possibilities for his subse­ quent actions. Two rhetorical clues to meaning mark the text of In the Company of Men. The first is the attribution of the word innocent to those who do not necessarily seem innocent. The second is the language of the living dead, which echoes that in The War Plays. In tracing these marks, the affinities that the two works share become visible, and Bond's conceptual scheme appears transparent. In the first unit of the play Leonard tries to convince his father to put him on the board of the family arms concern—this, on the eve


After Brecht

of a takeover attempt by Oldfield's major competitor, Hammond. The father refuses; the son complains; the father emotionally punishes the boy for presuming to seek his own gain in an impatient and impru­ dent fashion. While this action may be the spine of the unit, a second line of action involves the temptation of Leonard. His father's most trusted employee, Dodds, suggests to Leonard that he "go behind his father's back" to make an independent deal with a man who is losing his own company due to his reckless drinking and gambling. Leonard asks Dodds for a report on the company and defers a deci­ sion. This conversation takes place before the main confrontation with Oldfield. The situation of the drama, then, is the coming of age, or the attempt to do so, of the adopted son of a powerful arms manufacturer. Business, rather than romance or other domestic con­ cerns, dictates the terms of the "test" of Leonard's manhood. The language of combat, of the business itself, will provide the codes through which his behaviors will be measured and evaluated. In the second unit, and subsequent to the remonstrance of his father, Leonard decides to buy up the shares in Wilbraham's floun­ dering company. The decision appears as a hostile response to his father's rebuff but also as Leonard's interpretation of what is ex­ pected of him and how he can prove himself. He had received a series of messages from Dodds and Oldfield about what constitutes a suc­ cessful adult male and, therefore, a satisfactory son in unit 1. Bond stages the innocent child learning to interpret the world and his own needs in order to show how "our instincts become active only by being connected with analytical, interpretative feelings and images, and later concepts, of the world."35 Although Leonard is not an actual "child"—he is the only character for whom Bond does not specify an age—he is positioned as a child. In Alain Frangon's production, Leonard's physical gestus for this unit was definitely that of a child: Benoit Regent swung his legs over the arm of his chair, moved and spoke "boyishly," and interacted with the others as if they were "grown-ups." At the same time, he created an impression of a blank slate, a car in neutral. These production choices support the neces­ sary perception of Leonard as open to influence and poised to make choices in relation to information and urging. It was fascinating to see a Brechtian device used to approach the representation of human development. The fact of his adoption precludes any genetic reading of his behavior based on Oldfield. He learns his responses.

Edward Bond


The code of conduct suggested by both Oldfield and Dodds is based on strength, appearances, aggression, and assuming the en­ mity of others. Continually rebuking Leonard for being childish, Old­ field cautions him: "Its a father's duty to show his child his weak­ nesses so that he doesnt have to parade them in front of others. In your situation they could destroy you" (106-7). Weakness is the great­ est sin in Oldfield's catechism: it is both contemptible and lethal. Being seen as weak is the same as being weak; it will result in weak­ ness. The risk is always destruction, no half-measures. In a speech ostensibly about overcoming Hammond in the business arena, Old­ field blends combat and business into an ideology of relations be­ tween men: We've beaten Hammond but we must be vigilant. An internal weakness: the wrong design compromise, a misreading of inter­ national relations—a strategic error of that magnitude could de­ stroy us five years from now. When you make the guns you must be more alert than the soldiers who fire them. They need allies not enemies: we need enemies. We cant trust our allies, they're our commercial rivals—we cant trust our workers, they're like scavengers on the battlefield, they'd strip the dead— we cant trust our government, they use our rivals to beat us down—and then there's the Hammonds and their fifth columns. We've got only one good reliable friend: our enemies. We build our life and trust in them, they're always at our side. That makes us lonely: but the ground under our feet is very solid.36 When Dodds appeals to Leonard to take over Wilbraham's business, he tells Leonard that his father wants to be proud of him and is afraid he might fail so overprotects him. He plays on the notion that Leonard must exhibit strength, something that his father will never let him do. He even suggests that Wilbraham himself failed because his own father did not give him any lessons in running the business and that the same fate could befall Leonard if he doesn't make his own moves: "He's never going to let you take a risk. Sometime in the next year you'll have to go behind his back" (99). Thus, these valu­ ations and judgments, the interpretive framework presented to Leonard through which to make choices and understand his life, shape his decisions and attitudes.


After Brecht

At this point we can consider his "innocence." It is not the inno­ cence of a naturally good human being; he exhibits from his first sentences a callousness and disregard for others that is not especially attractive. Yet he is innocent in Bond's special sense of "radical inno­ cence," that state in which infants discover and interpret the world: Radical innocence is the psyche's conviction of its right to live, and of its conviction that it is not responsible for the suffering it finds in the world or that such things can be. To believe that it was would be to believe that it had no right to exist. . . . Before radical innocence can submit to authority the child must adopt its judges' judgments. But it cannot simply replace radical inno­ cence with radical guilt; that would mean it had no right to be born, and a mind that attacked itself so radically would destroy itself. So innocence protects itself by becoming corrupt.37 This corruption is tantamount to acquiring a subject position, or even an identity, by which one rationalizes corrupt behavior through inter­ nalization of the judges' judgments. The parallel between units 1 and 2 and the scenes in Red Black and Ignorant in which the son receives his army uniform and in Great Peace in which his mother dresses him to kill the neighbor's child are striking. More figurative in the trilogy, The War Plays, and more apparently naturalistic in the play, In the Company of Men, the staging of the corruption of radical innocence makes apparent the construction of the subject of ideology.38 Leonard is innocent in two senses: not only does he take on the judgments of his judges and rationalize his own corruption; he also is innocent in the sense of being naive. He inadvertantly becomes part of Hammond's plan to control Oldfield when Hammond buys up Leonard's loans, which allowed him to buy Wilbraham's business. Leonard has been set up. By unit 4, Wilbraham is able to say to him: I let you make me your victim. I couldn't believe the confusion you were in. This man is more evil than I am, I thought: yet he's innocent. Dont you think the world's in great danger when such things can happen? When corruption's so deep it comes from innocence, everything's contaminated by innocence! We can never get away from it! And I connive. Always I let it happen. Yet I long to do good! Im such scum! (130)

Edward Bond


Wilbraham the buffoon, the drunk, the gambler, the scum—he is clear-sighted about Leonard's situation. Bond thinks that the mind cannot live with radical guilt, that it will destroy itself. Wilbraham seems to live in partial guilt and knowledge of the rationalization process itself and, thus, is self-destructive, although not unto death. Resonances of Brecht's Baal play through these images of combat, hunting, survival, corruption. Yet this play is much more politicized than Brecht's earliest drama. The dramatic technique of In the Company of Men is an intricate mix of symbolic and figurative work with language and stage objects, on the one hand, and psychologically compelling close-ups of indi­ viduals' interactions, on the other. Bond calls for stark, minimalist staging (I've already mentioned Beckett). Even setting aside Alain Frangon's remarkable mise-en-scene for the Paris production, Bond's printed stage directions prescribe this style. In unit 1, there are two armchairs only. The presence of a glass of whiskey with no table on which to place it becomes the physical condition for an emblematic rendering of Oldfield's power and dominance as he plays with the drink in relation to his son and his servant and the awkward space. The object accompaniment to Wilbraham's deal with Leonard in unit 2 is a clean white shirt, displayed for a long stage time hanging from servant Bartley's hands, while Wilbraham attempts to change his skin from scum to rehabilitated gentleman by changing the signs of his state, a kind of classic A-effect. In the course of the scenes Leonard tries out various strategies to insure his survival and to attempt to find his identity. When Leonard buys stock in Wilbraham's company, Oldfield suddenly re­ lents and offers him the position on the board that he withheld in unit 1. Leonard almost kills his father with an AS 42, the newest generation of assault weapons from Oldfield's armory, "sniper and assault rifle combined." The servant Bartley sees that the gun is loaded and prevents the "accident," although this action costs him his job on the spot. Leonard approaches his own death twice. Following the failed attempt on his father's life, he apparently slits his wrists, although in a totally ineffectual way. At the end of the play he hangs himself, although he struggles against dying even after he has kicked the chair out from under himself. In the totality of these failed acts of murder and suicide, Bond returns to themes of living death, life-in-death,


After Brecht

and the presence of the past in the present, which inform The War Plays and extend back through his work, especially to the images of dead bodies grafted onto living ones in Lear and Early Morning. If radical innocence, refusing corruption, admits its own guilt, it loses the conviction of its right to live. If it lives within its own corruption, it loses humanness and becomes a living death. In "Notes on Post­ Modernism" Bond suggests that the transformation of needs into wants in the consumer culture of late capitalism effectively trans­ forms our relations with authority and the boundary (the natural world) by destroying the process whereby technology can fulfill needs and increase humaneness. Instead, "we are dead haunted by ghosts" (238). The extremity of the business involved—arms produc­ tion—highlights the deadliness of technology in the present world. Leonard's jockeying to find a way to live with/in this world produces points of oscillation between consciousness of his own corruption and complicity with the walking dead. Ironically, out of the attempts at death and suicide come Leonard's most alive moments, times when he acts to reinterpret his relationship to the world and to authority. He does not stop the ghosts of the earth—Oldfield, Ham­ mond, and Dodds—from pursuing their deadly strategies, but he does indicate, through his resistance, a profile of possibility for a future society. One could say that Leonard attempts to outplay his father(s) by besting them at their own game (e.g., using the attempt on his father's life to establish a hold over him later through confession), only to fail because of the fragments of humanity that undo him. In this reading his father's sudden silent death robs Leonard not only of his inheritance but also of the final upper hand in the power struggle. Similarly, the desire to deprive Hammond of any possible fiscal gain motivates Leonard's suicide but fails when Hammond calmly forges the appropriate signatures on Leonard's will and walks away from the image of the hanged Leonard. Yet, while recognizing this dimension of the actions, we can also see that the acts of confess­ ing to Oldsfield and of trying to shoot Hammond with his final breath affirm Leonard's human ability to resist, within certain historical limi­ tations, the social formation of postmodernism. In the confession of attempted murder to his father Leonard describes what it would take to succeed Oldfield: "Your successor had to be aggressive and pa­ tient—the disciplined patience that's a sort of knowledge. A man

Edward Bond


who kills to get proves his aggression. A man who waits to let a bird sing—proves he knows. Who else can you trust your company to?— only your killer. I've earned the right to your place. Well?" (173). This logic is his father's from unit 1. Leonard is acting in accordance with authority, judging with the judges' judgment. But the father has slipped away into actual death and cannot confirm the succession. Leonard is once again thrown back on his own authority. "Oh god he's turned into a ghost and walked!" he cries (175). Hammond has also tried to make Leonard his son, most clearly in unit 5 when he all but begs him to cooperate with him, describing his own es­ trangement from his biological sons. Leonard does not want to be the son of either of these men. He keeps trying to be self-generating, but it's impossible. In an explicitly oedipal reference, after the confession but before he's discovered Oldfield's death, Leonard says: "I've un­ tied the riddle. I killed—now I'm giving life. Im father and son" (174). The old desire for originary selfhood seems clear but, of course, fu­ tile. The past presses on, sometimes buries the present. Any "going forward" must come out of the social configuraton of the past; it cannot bypass it altogether. Leonard is historically situated to resist Oldfield and Hammond but not to overcome them. This is our own historical moment—unless something in our relationship to technol­ ogy and the boundary changes. This is also Bond's small optimism, lodged in the grotesque image of the hanged Leonard's efforts to shoot Hammond. It recalls Len's mending of the chair in Saved in its minimal gesture to the future. The relationship between spectator and spectacle is perhaps the most Brechtian element of In the Company of Men. The tone is cool, often comic. No character merits much empathy. Each unit has a strong physical gestus and a central action. Yet Bond foregrounds the internal nature and decision-making apparatus of the characters much more than Brecht ever did. The spectator is positioned as curi­ ous, analytic, estranged, and judgmental, which is to say, the perfect Brechtian spectator. Bond consciously writes with Brecht in mind, as a post-Brechtian writer—more than the other writers discussed here, but not so much more that I want to underplay the informed and thoughtful re­ sponses to Brecht made by each of the writers discussed in this book. Still, it seems appropriate to end this chapter with a current account


After Brecht

of Bond's thinking about his relationship to Brecht's theater work, if only because, in the recent commentaries on The War Plays and on postmodernism, and in a personal interview in 1991, he has expressly reformulated his ideas. Bond has developed the terms Theater Event (TE), subtext, and metatext to describe what he thinks the contemporary theater must do onstage. A TE occurs in the relationship between the character, actor, and audience, when they interpret an action. The actor makes judgments about the character that the audience comes to see. The text is given and is about action. The subtext is subjective and may not be in control of the writer. The metatext is not written—it is social—and is the product of the interactions between the three inter­ rogators (actor, character, and audience). The meaning arises in the gaps. It is, Bond says, philosophy, not psychology or entertainment: "Acting is performance, that is why in all interpretation philosophy gets in between the actor and his character. Interpretation depends on meaning, and in drama that must be a philosophy of nature, society and self. So the triangle of actor, character and audience forms a gap that only philosophy can fill; and society sends the audi­ ence to the theatre to see which philosophy fills it."39 TEs clarify and make evident the philosophy underlying the meanings. In part, this is determined in the theater as the metatext of the triangular rela­ tion. This concept is similar to a reception theory that allows the audience constitutive powers based on shared historical and social contexts. Bond wants to up the ante on the productive activity of the audience, however, and that is where his departure from Brecht is articulated. Bond does not think that TEs are Brechtian Alienation effects, in spite of the obvious similarities in the emphasis on the judgments of the actors and audience and on the clarity of meaning. In the "Com­ mentary on the War Plays" he distinguishes TEs from alienation ef­ fects on the basis of Brecht's restrictive emphasis on Enlightenment reason. TEs go beyond objectivity to interpret passion and compla­ cency, to show the social processes of subjectivity: TEs represent an evolution and refinement of Bond's aggro-effects, Bond's early con­ ceptual attempt to move beyond Brecht. The real departure, how­ ever, that TEs make from Alienation effects concerns the issue of authority. In our time the task of the theater is to make the audience responsible for its own authority. In Brecht alienation is stabilized as

Edward Bond


a meaning through an appeal to an external authority (Marxism or other revolutionary movements). This stabilization, while appropri­ ate in the fight against Hitler, is overturned by history in our own time. "Deconstruction is right in saying that meaning escapes, that there will always be a supplement. Alienation effects try to stop that by saying 'I can fracture your perception and make you see it another way.' This is true, but that meaning will slip away again, it is not permanent."40 In TEs the authority resides with the producers of that meaning, the triangle of participants and their work on the text(s). Bond denies that this openness is present in Brecht's mature work: "When you look at a Brecht play now, you have to ask about the authority behind the alienation." In addition to the problem of authority, Bond sees that, unlike in Brecht's day, alienation is not the exceptional experience but, rather, the rule. "There is nothing that is not now alienated. Capital­ ism has naturalized alienation." Thus, the attempt to alter perception in order to create alienation is often redundant in the contemporary theater. The task is "to manipulate the metatext to make the audience the authority—to make them decide what the alienation is. It's not easy but it's the whole problem of the modern theatre."41 The metatext can be used to clarify the meaning of the TEs and to put the audience in the role of bearing responsibility for interpretation and judgment. Bond thinks this approach necessitates a new style of acting ap­ propriate for TEs. When he talks about acting, his frustration with traditional approaches, both American method and the acting of the big cultural theaters like the RSC, is apparent. He walked out of rehearsals of The War Plays at the RSC because the actors did not know how to approach the material. He contrasts their "frivolous" playing to the production he saw of a group of 15- and 16-year-olds in Red Black and Ignorant. They lacked professional training but had the right relationship to the text: "Those people knew exactly how to approach the play. They had no problems about the text, what was this play about, how to relate to the text. It actually meant something in relation to the lives they were leading. It was a very noble perfor­ mance." On the tendency of American actors as well as others to psychologize their characters, Bond is incisive: "They want to show the character has a good soul. What does that mean? What we have to say is why does niceness become vicious?"42 For Bond the metatext


After Brecht

can provide a commentary that links the TEs and can be played to the audience. He gives many examples from his works in the "Commen­ tary to the War Plays." It is tempting to translate his description of the mother dressing the soldier in Red Black and Ignorant into Brechtian terms, stressing gestus and perhaps fixing the Not/But. Bond, however, wants to stress the questioning of the audience—"What is the meaning of this?"—rather than "This is the meaning of this." He acknowledges that these techniques build on and grow out of Brechtian dramaturgy,43 and I recognize that he has created his own unique understanding and strategies for a postmodern theater. In many ways Bond points up the tensions between Brecht the modernist and Brecht the threshold-postmodernist: the dialectic between openness and closure, which has always marked his work, and the historically bound Brecht who nevertheless offers a critique of the historically bounded. Thus, Edward Bond illuminates Brecht's work, just as Brecht helps to interpret Bond's.

Chapter 3

Caryl Churchill: Socialist Feminism and Brechtian Dramaturgy

This chapter broaches a series of topics that, considered together, explain the core conviction of this book—that politics and aesthetics are inseparably linked and that Brechtian theory provides a tremen­ dously powerful means of describing and producing a theater of re­ sistance. These topics include feminism and its articulation with so­ cialism, feminist theory and its articulation with some poststructuralist theory, feminist-socialist theater and its articulation with Brechtian dramaturgy—and all of these interacting together. Acknowledging that there is no "Feminism," only feminisms, most writers and critics distinguish between several dominant forms, usually "bourgeois feminism," "radical" or sometimes "cultural" feminism, and "socialist feminism" or "materialist feminism."1 While in practice these are not completely separate from one another and, in fact, can provide mutual insights and support, they are the focus of several important disagreements within the women's movement and subsequently within feminist aesthetics. Bourgeois feminism seeks to gain for women parity with men, emphasizes "freedom," and often elides class and race. Radical feminism is woman centered, usually emphasizes women as a class of beings different from men and often advocates separate culture and politics for the two genders. Materialist feminism emphasizes the social construction of gender, or even sex itself, and attends to class and race as they interact with gender oppression. In Britain the feminist movement is driven largely by women in the working class and is primarily socialist in orientation, in contrast to the United States, where feminism is strongly based in the middle class and tends to emphasize, in Michelene Wandor's words, "'equalling up' with men."2 The feminist theater coming out of Brit­ ain, then, tends to critique the emphasis on individualism in bour­



After Brecht

geois feminism and also the essentialism of radical feminism, which attempts to valorize and maintain an ahistorical female identity and culture discrete from that of the male.3 Playwrights such as Pam Gems and Michelene Wandor and groups such as Red Ladder and Monstrous Regiment have developed work within a socialist feminist framework, but it is Caryl Churchill who most consistently and force­ fully writes from this perspective.4 At the same time, she produces an identifiable epic structure and syntax, clearly related to Brechtian dramaturgy, while maintaining a high degree of originality and ex­ perimentation.

Brecht and Feminism: Strange Bedfellows? While Brecht's own representations of gender and sexual difference are subject to severe critique from a feminist perspective,5 two as­ pects of Brecht's theory transcend the historical and patriarchal limi­ tations of his discourse. I refer to his persistent antagonism to closed systems of representation and his emphasis on constructing a specifi­ cally socialist paradigm. The traditional representational vocabulary in Western theater has inscribed women as Other and has gendered a fictional "Woman" within a theatrical frame designed and operated largely within the phallic economy of male desire. Jill Dolan comments on Brecht's the­ ory as "a direct, politically based critique of representational struc­ tures that create mythologized subject positions and that mystify social relations."6 Feminist dramatists can use Brechtian theory to foreground the ideological implications of representation with re­ spect to gender assumptions, demystifying their apparent inevitabil­ ity and appropriateness. Brecht is particularly helpful in his critique of the bourgeois theater practices of staging the Universal: "The bour­ geois theatre emphasized the timelessness of its objects. Its represen­ tation of people is bound by the alleged 'eternally human.' Its story is arranged in such a way as to create 'universal' situations that allow Man with a capital M to express himself."7 Since materialist feminists also theorize socially constructed (gender) systems that are in no sense eternal, fixed, or unchanging, the exposure of bourgeois theat­ rical conventions that inscribe universality and the deconstruction of capital M-Man as subject are salient goals for feminist as well as Brechtian theater.8

Caryl Churchill


Brecht's insistence on producing a socialist theater, while em­ phasizing capitalism and not patriarchy, led to the practice of historicizing a field of representation in order to expose its economic and social determinants. Feminists interested in the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy have gained insight from Brecht's com­ ments in "A Short Organum": "We need a type of theatre which not only releases the feelings, insights and impulses possible within the particular historical field of human relations in which the action takes place, but employs and encourages those thoughts and feelings which help transform the field itself."9 Historicizing gender relations is a powerful way to change the field itself because it explicitly chal­ lenges the notion of transhistorical male and female modes of being and recovers a marginalized alternative narrative of women as active subjects determining the concrete course of human events. In the practical realm Brecht's exposure of the theater's appara­ tus co-opted by the state's ideological apparatus has utility for femi­ nists, whose work most often appears in male-controlled and -domi­ nated theaters. Michelene Wandor has written perceptively about the kind of feminist plays that get produced in the mainstream British theaters: "It is worth remembering [these power relations] when one tries to work out why some plays become commercially successful while others don't—and in part this is likely to stem from the nature of the feminist message contained in the play. The closer it is to some kind of socialist feminist message, the less likely it is to get through the barriers of the men who hold power in the theatre."10 In an early essay Brecht made similar comments about the commerical context of his theater, only lacking a feminist analysis of who controls the means of production: "This leads to a general habit of judging works of art by their suitability for the apparatus without ever judging the apparatus by its suitability for the work."11 In their positions of opposition to closed systems of representa­ tion and bourgeois theatrical practices, Brechtian theory and materi­ alist feminism sometimes seem to constitute postmodernist projects by virtue of shared critical tasks: like the major operations of post­ modernist criticism, they seek (1) to rupture the seamless narrative wherever a tightly knit, closed system of causal connections implies the inevitability of events; (2) to expose ideological assumptions car­ ried in the terms or system of representation, whether this is the property system or the gender system; and (3) to deconstruct the


After Brecht

integrity of "character" in order to show the subject as a site of contra­ dictions, a position within an ideological field of social practices, neither unified nor stable and certainly not eternal. At the same time, however, Brechtian theory and materialist feminism embrace pur­ posive political goals and values predicated on human agencies of social change. Thus, neither fits well with the apolitical, relativistic tendencies of postmodernism.12 Explaining the impasse between feminism and postmodernism, Christine Di Stefano writes, "Fi­ nally, . . . the postmodernist project, if seriously adopted by femi­ nists, would make any semblance of a feminist politics impossible. To the extent that feminist politics is bound up with a specific con­ stituency or subject, namely women, the postmodernist prohibition against subject-centered inquiry and theory undermines the legiti­ macy of a broad-based organized movement dedicated to articulating and implementing the goals of such a constituency."13 In the case of Brecht, his commitment to Marxism entails a different but parallel constituency (the working class) and similar action. Bourgeois critics have often tried to separate Marxist politics from epic aesthetics, treating the A-effect, social gestus, and other epic features as formal­ istic structures. It won't work. As Dana Polan writes, "Brecht's the­ ory is not an endorsement of a separation of elements or of the gestic technique or of epic construction as such; he continually emphasizes the particular ends to which theater must direct its craft and the need to remain open toward the value (or dis-value) of any particular means to those ends."14 In both feminist theory and within Brecht scholarship the relationship to an emerging postmodernism is a con­ tinuing topic of debate.15 Thus, in spite of the fundamental distance between Brecht and feminists on various issues, some strategic alliances have linked Brechtian theory and dramaturgy to feminist theater writers, critics, and directors. Elin Diamond has made this project most explicit in her call for a "Gestic Feminist Criticism." Reading Brecht intertextually with feminist theory, Diamond sees that "a feminist practice that seeks to expose or mock the structures of gender usually uses some version of the Brechtian A-effect."16 Emphasizing the visual aspects of mapping the body, Diamond allows us to "see" gender as ideol­ ogy. She links sexual difference to the Not/But, the repressed trace of sexual difference not foregrounded in any given representation.

Caryl Churchill


In an explicit linking of Brecht, deconstruction, and feminism, she writes: The Brechtian "not-but" is the theatrical and theoretical analogue to the subversiveness of sexual difference because it allows us to imagine the deconstruction of gender—and all other—repre­ sentations. Such deconstructions dramatize, at least at the level of theory, the infinite play of difference that Derrida calls écri­ ture—the superfluity of signification that places meaning beyond capture within the covers of the play or the hours of perfor­ mance. This is not to deny Brecht's wish for an instructive, ana­ lytical theater; on the contrary, it invites the participatory play of the spectator, and the possiblity for which Brecht most de­ voutly wished, that signification (the production of meaning) continue beyond play's end, congealing into choice and action after the spectator leaves the theater.17 The objective of the performance becomes the heightening of the experience of the Not and also of the pleasure of the spectator in parsing the difference(s). Agency and the possibility of judgment and action are thereby underscored. In Diamond's analysis of spectatorship the triangular structure of the actor/character/spectator sets in motion reciprocal readings of the signs of performance. As the actor "reads" the character to the spectator, she supplements "rather than disappears into the production of meaning." The spectator, viewing this split between actor and character, also becomes historicized, "in motion and at risk, but also free to compare the actor/character's signs to 'what is close and proper to [herself]'—her material condi­ tions, her politics, her skin, her desires."18 This, then, is the cognitive level of struggle, less subtle and indirect than the subversive Not/But, but enabling direct engagement with the production of meaning.

Brecht and Caryl Churchill Caryl Churchill has used a variety of identifiably Brechtian tech­ niques to construct her socialist feminist dramas.19 Aware of Brecht and having been exposed to his plays while at Oxford (the first play she knew was Caucasian Chalk Circle, in which she played a small role


After Brecht

around 1958), she acknowledges Brecht's general influence on her work that is informal and often unconscious: I don't know either the plays or the theoretical writings in great detail but I've soaked up quite a lot about him over the years. I think for writers, directors and actors working in England in the seventies his ideas have been absorbed into the general pool of shared knowledge and attitudes, so that without constantly thinking of Brecht we nevertheless imagine things in a way we might not have without him."20 Looking over some of her most successful plays, the borrowing and reworking of Brechtian techniques for her own ends is apparent. Such plays as Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1976), Vinegar Tom (1976), Cloud 9 (1979), and Top Girls (1981) combine socialist feminist strategies with Brechtian techniques. In all four of these plays Churchill historicizes the incidents of the narratives. Light Shining in Buckinghamshire and Vinegar Tom are plays on seventeenth-century historical subjects, the first about the English Civil War, which failed to realize its truly revolutionary possi­ bilities, and the second about persecution of women as witches at the time of the last major English witch-hunts. Dealing with historical material is not, by itself, an indication of historicization. Brecht writes: "We must drop our habit of taking the different social struc­ tures of past periods, then stripping them of everything that makes them different; so that they all look more or less like our own.. . . In­ stead we must leave them their distinguishing marks and keep their impermanence always before our eyes, so that our own period can be seen to be impermanent too."21 Seen in this light, all four of Chur­ chill's plays engage this strategy, especially by throwing into relief uncritcized assumptions of "received history." In an introduction to Light Shining Churchill writes, "The simple 'Cavaliers and Roundheads' history taught at school hides the com­ plexity of the aims and conflicts of those to the left of Parliament. We are told of a step forward to today's democracy but not of a revolution that didn't happen; we are told of Charles and Cromwell but not of the thousands of men and women who tried to change their lives/'22 Light Shining unfolds within its historical period, draw­ ing on documentary materials like Diggers's pamphlets, transcripts

Caryl Churchill


of the Putney debates and Leveler newspapers, to make manifest some of the marginalized voices of the Cromwell era.23 The other three plays all contain a structural intervention of the present into the past. While Vinegar Tom employs contemporary songs sung by modern women to counterpoint the historical narra­ tive, Cloud 9 and Top Girls condition the audience through some scenes of "history" to adopt a critical, alienated stance, then catapult it into the present in which the socialist feminist trajectory of the play takes focus. Thus, the Victorian farce of Cloud 9's first act conditions us to recognize the unsolved contemporary dilemmas of the second. Top Girls' first scene is a kind of curtain raiser, a synchronic medita­ tion on the identity of "top girls," after which the play pushes for­ ward to a particular historical moment, ours, in all its unresolved contradictions. Marlene's story is then re-placed within the diachrony of the historical narratives. Brechtian historicization actually works in three modes simulta­ neously. In representing the past, the specificity of its conditions, its "Otherness" from now, and the suppressed possibilities through which it might have been otherwise are presented. Then the relation­ ship of the past to the present is shown to consist of analogous conditions, unchanged and/or unexamined legacies that make the latent possibilities of the past act as a springboard to present possibili­ ties. Finally, the representation of the present must be such that it is seen from a distance similar to the way the "past" is seen, that is, historically. Churchill grasps the need for all three modalities. The most diffi­ cult to achieve is the positioning of the spectator to see contemporary experience at a distance, historically. Thus, Cloud 9 requires the first act to present the second. It is not a falling off of the critique of the first act,24 but, rather, the second act is the whole show—or, if an overstatement, at least the referent (present-time) for the show. The audience, conditioned by the first act to look critically at the behavior and social context of characters in the past, must now continue to examine matters closer to home.25 While Victorian sex-role stereotyp­ ing and political chauvinism are deadly, contemporary role confusion and the residue of imperialism remain problematic. The second act of the published text begins with a monologue, spoken by Gerry, Edward's lover. He describes picking up strangers on the train from Victoria to Clapham: "He was jerking off with his left hand, and I


After Brecht

could see he'd got a fair-sized one. I wished he'd keep still so I could see his watch. I was getting really turned on. What if we pulled into Clapham Junction now before I shot my load."26 Gerry's impersonal detachment and graphic description deliberately shock the audience. The first act does not prepare one for the harsh contemporaneity of this urban scene. Having struck a new note of realism, Churchill then continues the political and social critique of the first act, exploring the ambivalence of sex and role. The abrupt shift from "history" to the present scores an impressive Brechtian upset.27 The essential feature of Churchill's treatment of the present is its structural placement. In Top Girls the last scene between Marlene and Joyce is an extended scene of domestic realism. By itself, the critical invitation to discern and make judgments about Marlene and her choices—and her relationship to a whole new generation of top girls—would be blunted. Because of the preceding scenes, not only of the historical women at lunch but also its juxtaposition with that in the employment agency, the last scene is distanced and its recep­ tion altered. Although this strategy is most obvious in Cloud 9 and Top Girls, it also shapes, for example, Vinegar Tom, Fen (1983), A Mouthful of Birds (1986), and even Serious Money (1987). Churchill's dramatic strategies also ground a socialist feminist analysis of the relationship between patriarchy and the economic system. Each play depicts the ability of the dominant ideology to subsume marginal members of the community. Cruel and unusual punishment is meted out for women who do not conform to the economic or sexual systems. The punishment for begging is to be stripped to the waist and whipped in Light Shining, while in Vinegar Tom the punishment for practicing folk medicine and thus evading the legitimate medical economy is to be hanged. In the play the women who are persecuted as witches are a threat because they have lived apart from the dominant sexual and economic order, whether by choice or, most often, by necessity. Top Girls is concerned to show how progressive social move­ ments such as feminism can be diluted and accommodated by capital­ ism. Rejecting her working-class background, Marlene internalizes the male capitalist ideology as soon as she achieves corporate suc­ cess. Churchill wrote the play in response to the perceptions of American college students that having a few women in high places

Caryl Churchill


meant the battle for women's liberation had been won. The play shows the prices that women throughout history have had to pay for being unique and successful and suggests that contemporary women are also paying a price that may not be desirable. As an eloquent indictment of bourgeois feminism, the play's balance and structure guard against anyone's mistaking its politics as antifeminist.28 Cloud 9, Churchill's sparkling comedy, uncovers the legacy of racist, sexist, colonial chauvinism still present in contemporary strug­ gles over sex roles, class differences, and continued English imperial­ ism in Ireland. The Victorian era was both different and the same as our own time. Churchill suggests that it is a particular kind of ahistorical smugness to think we have transcended it. In addition to historicizing the incidents of her narratives, Chur­ chill's epic structures rupture the seamlessness of traditional struc­ ture. She manages to create realistic fragments of life and then alien­ ate them through skillful juxtaposition and arrangement. Whether through the songs of Vinegar Tom, the radical time breaks of Top Girls and Cloud 9, or the self-contained events of Light Shining, Churchill composes her epics through "decoupage," which is Roland Barthes's term for Brecht's structural technique, in which, as Brecht has it, "one can. . . take a pair of scissors and cut it into individual pieces, which remain fully capable of life."29 Besides positioning the present as described above, this technique also represents the discontinuous and dialectical nature of history, marking the spaces in which some­ thing else might have intervened to change the course of events. Caryl Churchill has conceived several imaginative solutions to the problem of character in feminist drama. Recognizing the necessity of deconstructing subjectivity as an unchanging gendered essence, she uses multiple casting and cross-gender and race casting to alien­ ate character and reveal social construction. In the first act of Cloud 9, a man plays Betty, a woman plays Edward, and a white man plays the black servant Joshua. The cross-casting identifies strain between an expressive, experiential self, on the one hand, and the condition­ ing of social role and dominant ideology on the other. Simple actions become powerful social gests in Brecht's sense of the term. The lifting of a Victorian skirt can look "natural" when a woman does it, but is strongly alienated when a man performs it as a learned behavior. Seeing a man play a little girl establishes "Cathy" as a site of radical


After Brecht

struggle over gender identification rather than as a female child who likes to play with guns. In addition, the portrayal of difference, the trace of desire through cross-casting, heightens the "Not" in the Not/ But, especially in the case of the female playing Edward and the male playing Cathy. These cross-cast characters denaturalize the same-sex roles as well. For the Los Angeles production the program quoted Virgina Woolfs Orlando: "Different though the sexes are they inter­ mix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above." Churchill's cross-casting establishes the most graphic example of the Brechtian spectatorial triangle in British con­ temporary theater. The actor demonstrates the character-as-sociallyconstructed to the spectator in a very literal way. Although cross-casting is Churchill's most arresting device, she employs several strategies to foreground the social construction of her characters. Top Girls double casts the historical women as presentday women and calls for adults to portray the children's parts. To­ ward the end of Vinegar Tom two of the women who have just been hanged reappear as Kramer and Sprenger, the authors of Malleus Maleficarum, the famous handbook on witches. Dressed as men, they play the historical material as if in an Edwardian music hall, rupturing any possible heavy emotional mood and recalling the actor/ character/role relationships. For Light Shining different actors appear as the same character. Churchill recommends the play be performed this way because, she says: "The audience should not have to worry exactly which character they are seeing. Each scene can be taken as a separate event rather than part of a story. This seems to reflect better the reality of large events like war and revolution where many people share the same kind of experience."30 The various characters are literally positions within the historical landscape. Hoskins is a female ranter; Margaret Brotherton, a beggar; Cobbe, a gentleman; Briggs, a working man. Many people were like these characters; many actors can play these roles. They are positions before they are people. Churchill's casting devices create a kind of A-effect that encom­ passes the performer-as-subject as well as the role. Amelia Kritzer has described Churchill's persistent deconstruction of the player-role opposition through her various uses of doubling:

Caryl Churchill


The dialectic between player and role offers a paradigm of ques­ tioning and resistance of patriarchal ideology. The player's en­ gagement with and separation from a succession of roles interro­ gates both the roles as roles and the assumed subjectivity of the player. Instead of confirming an ideological wholeness, it exhib­ its fragmentation. Instead of charting development within the artificially unitary divisions of patriarchal discourse, it models experimentation with an array of imagined possibilities.31 I would extend Kritzer's observations to encompass not only matters of gender but also the entire notion of a unified self. As a site of multiple social codes and practices, the self is disunified yet capable of embodying ideological and political struggle through the twin as­ pects of imagination and action. The performer as well as the specta­ tor is constructed on this model. As Diamond puts it, "Looking at the character, the spectator is constantly intercepted by the actor/subject, and the latter, heeding no fourth wall, is theoretically free to look back. . . no one side [of the triangle] signifies authority, knowledge, or law."32 In a play written with David Lan, A Mouthful of Birds, Churchill carries the notion of the contradictory self(ves) into explicit content. The characters in the play are possessed by alternative, sup­ pressed selves, and the premise of the play is that the characters give over one unguarded, "undefended," day to these "roles." The vio­ lence that is unleashed is in some ways healing, in many ways de­ structive, and the "resolution" of many into one does not take place at the close of the narrative.33 Of all of Brecht's tools, however, the one that Caryl Churchill most expertly uses for feminist ends is the social gest. Feminists have long observed that the site of women's bodies is the literal site of gender inscription. Before reading Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish, Churchill had captured the power relations implicit in gender ideology in Light Shining, with its whipping "discipline," and in Vine­ gar Tom, in which bleeding is the perfect social gest of middle-class pressure to accommodate traditional sex roles. As the energy for resistance is "bled" away, docile bodies remain. In Top Girls, when Angie tries on the dress that Auntie Marlene bought for her, the gap between Marlene's world and Angie's is portrayed on her body, and in the scenes in which the dress is old and too small history is also

After Brecht


marked out on Angie. The social gestus is powerful not only because it exposes the internalization of ideology but also because of its power to demonstrate, or make signs, that call attention to the "theater" of everyday life, the spectatorship to which we are all condemned in the public arena. To further tease out the relationship of gestus to theater and life, I wish to consider Churchill's play Softcops (1984) in some detail, in the process illustrating the usefulness of Foucault for femi­ nist theory and practice.34 Softcops and Social Gestus The body is also directly involved in a political field; power rela­ tions have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs. —Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish Pierre is an old-fashioned guy. He believes that people need a balance of terror and information: show them an awful spectacle but be sure to interpret it for them as the wages of evil and the necessity to obey Law. In the opening scene of Softcops, set in the 1830s in France, Churchill dramatizes the theatrical limits and possibilities of Pierre's gestus. Orchestrated to the last detail, complete with speeches for the magistrate and the condemned, his punishment scenario is played out before an "audience" of schoolboys. The opening procession even has to be restaged because a key spectator, the Minister, has not yet arrived. Pierre plays a kind of Marat to the Minister's de Sade. Pierre worships reason, while the Minister prefers festival: "What brings a crowd, it's very simple, is agony."35 While Pierre dreams of social control under the aegis of explanatory images (he would like a Sun­ day park full of simulated displays of punishments for every crime, marked with placards36), the Minister wishes he could return to en­ acting the ten-day execution. Both of them are wrong. They both believe in the ability of the state to control significa­ tion. But the visible is actually more dangerous and potentially sub­ versive than the invisible. Reading the signs, spectators may produce multiple meanings. When the condemned man refuses to speak the written speech and instead admits that he killed his boss and is glad

Caryl Churchill


of it, he triggers half the crowd to join his side. In the ensuing brawl both executioner and condemned man get thrashed, while the scaf­ fold itself is destroyed. What are the schoolchildren to learn about justice from this spectacle? They learn what Foucault tells us caused the reformers to reform: "It was evident that the great spectacle of punishment ran the risk of being rejected by the very people to whom it was addressed . . . these disadvantages became a political danger— the people never felt closer to those who paid the penalty than in those rituals intended to show the horror of the crime and the invinci­ bility of power."37 Because the social gest of rebellion is the repressed trace in the exercise of enforced conformity (i.e., punishment), the best plan is to avoid making a spectacle of such "crimes" at all. Thus, Fieschi, the attempted regicide, is best killed in the middle of the night without witness. Instead, substitute the "eternal couple" of the cop and the robber as the dominant spectacle of crime and punish­ ment.38 Churchill portrays two historical crooks from the nineteenth cen­ tury, Vidocq, who became chief of police, and Lacenaire, who be­ came legendary, even though "a second-rate little villain" (15). Through the mythologizing of such as these, the political implications of crime and punishment were suppressed, and the "theater" substi­ tuted romance for politics. In celebrating Lacenaire, a group of rich men in Churchill's play honor him because he validates them: He's so young. All he's been through. Yes but you can see in his eyes. Never trust eyes like that. It's the shape of his skull. No, it's his free will. His pure self-interest. I conduct my business like that. (15) The celebration turns into a travesty, the rich men with pants down yelling "Stand on me, I'm so rich. Stand on m e . .. I'm so boring" (17). In another scene when Vidocq comes to London to show the instruments of torture at an exhibition, his own celebrity and the

After Brecht


curiosity and exoticism of his "souvenirs" completely replace the old purposes of instilling fear in the spectators. Thus, this spectacle of crime and punishment distracts from and dissimulates the real power relations governing penal justice. If real exercise of force is always more effective if invisible, the best control is internal rather than external. The experience of being part of the chain gang not only does not rehabilitate a young boy in Churchill's narrative; it in fact turns him into the criminal he initially wasn't: "Course I'm not fucking innocent. What you take me for? I done a murder they never found out. I done two. I done six. I done a landlord! I done a banker! I done a policeman!" This transformation illustrates the political potential of repression to produce its opposite. The chain gang ends in solidarity with the children: Children break your chains Beating on a drum Children break their laws Our day will come. (21 )

The best way to achieve internal self-control, or what we might call the mapping of ideology in subjectivity, is not through spectacle but through surveillance. Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon becomes the breakthrough that finally satisfies Pierre's longing for "rationalized" society. As he experiences being looked at rather than looking (as object, rather than as subject, or producer of meanings—in passing, note the application to gender), he grasps its significance: "It's noth­ ing like a theatre. More like a machine. It's a form of power like the steam engine. I just have to apply it" (23). Conformity is produced through internalizing the all-seeing eye. Make people know they are "watched" and will be punished and they will watch themselves. To quote Foucault: He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.39

Caryl Churchill


In the case of children a combination of techniques produces well-socialized "citizens." When Pierre first comes to take over the classroom, he mistakenly interprets posture harnesses as punish­ ment. "Good heavens no," says the headmaster, "it helps his back grow straight.. . . They will all be normal in time" (19). Thus, the reinterpretation of punishment into discipline and thence into self­ help provides the social gestus for the conflation of these power effects in the modern psyche. In a later scene Pierre is able to call what is clearly a group detention home a "family," regulating a new boy's behavior by time and space rather than beatings and using isolation in a cell with "God sees you" on the wall to produce his docile body. From witnessing the ambiguous signs of the botched execution in the first scene, the children have come to the benign machine of institutional "education." Pierre, the quester after the perfect means of "rationalizing" society, has at last found peace, tending a group of inmates whose specific identity is unclear. De­ scribing a speech he must make about them, Pierre explicitly names the "enabling" power of surveillance: I shall just explain quite simply how the criminals are punished, the sick are cured, the workers are supervised, the ignorant are educated, the unemployed are registered, the insane are normal­ ized, the criminals—No,wait a minute. The criminals are super­ vised. The insane are cured. The sick are normalized. The work­ ers are registered. The unemployed are educated. The ignorant are punished. No. I'll need to rehearse this a little. The ignorant are normalized. Right. The sick are punished. The insane are educated. The workers are cured. The unemployed are pun­ ished. The criminals are normalized. Something along those lines. (28) The mapping of ideology onto individual bodies through all the social institutions of the state is no less than the purview of power relations, imbricated in all aspects of our social life. Chuchill, in dramatizing this Foucauldian insight, has done so with specific re­ course to the social gestus as a means of concealing as well as reveal­ ing power relations. "Inscribed on the body" may mean a correcting posture, as if one is wearing a harness, or it may mean the docile


After Brecht

posture of women on a bus, knees together, eyes cast down.40 The spectacle may be one of open signification, in which case it is danger­ ous to the current hegemony, or it may be merely a mask for domi­ nant ideology, as when detective fiction depoliticizes the power relations of the state apparatus. Spectatorship involves the free inter­ pretation of the signs, but they are culturally produced, and specta­ tors are located in a specific historical conjuncture, making some readings more difficult than others. Churchill first had in mind writ­ ing a contemporary play about "soft methods of control, schools, hospitals, social workers."41 After reading Foucault, she chose to historicize the problem by setting her narrative in the 1830s in France and demonstrating how people were then changing the means of producing docile bodies. It is as if social gests in the area of social control began to go underground, to be "naturalized" beyond recog­ nition. Softcops makes the invisible visible and reproblematizes the subjective inscriptions of social control. There are no women in the play. It may seem strange that I chose to discuss Softcops in a chapter on feminism. But I think this play has profound implications for the feminist project. The absence of women is not an accident: Softcops is about patriarchal culture and its power relations. The absence of women makes this clear. So too does the explanation of the headmaster to his pupils at the beginning of the play: "Your country loves its children like a father. And when the children are bad the country grieves like a father. And punishes like a father" (8). Women do not have to be represented on the stage for a gender critique to take place or for a feminist politic to underlie the dramaturgy. Further, the play seems to me to be a kind of theoretical treatise, not on Foucault—nor do I think the play a reduction of Foucault, as Diamond maintains42—but as a guide to much of her other work on the subject of gestus and theatrical signification. If the play repre­ sents the power of "the people" to interpret the play of signification, it also demonstrates how the dominant hegemony represses certain meanings and naturalizes others through the manipulation of specta­ cle and the selection of social gests for popular consumption. Learn­ ing to read against dominant discourse is part of feminism's political project. For a feminist aesthetic this involves drawing attention to the ideological construction of theatrical representation and the evocation of particularly telling social gests. For spectators it involves question­

Caryl Churchill


ing even the most apparently innocuous social practices for their ideologically coded power relations. Serious M oney as a Brechtian Reprise Churchill's Serious Money was written as a direct response to contem­ porary events in Britain—the Thatcher campaign for 1987 and the deregulation of the stock market and associated scandals of 1986. The play is a distant cousin to The Threepenny Opera insofar as it reveals the complicity of power and greed and the mythology of the criminal as something perpetrated to protect class interests. Its subject, how­ ever, is high finance rather than petty larceny, for high finance has captured the imagination not only of those who live its life, but also of those who observe it. In fact, Churchill refers to the period of Gay's The Beggar's Opera but cites a different play: the curtain raiser for Serious Money is a scene from Thomas Shadwell's The Volunteers; or, The Stockjobbers. The scene presents Hackwell and his wife obtaining information about various new inventions in which they might obtain an interest in the form of shares. Hackwell has grasped that they need not be concerned with the quality or utility of the invention as long as they only "use it whereby we may turn the penny, always considered that it is like to take and the said Shares will sell well."43 The similarity of the turn of the eighteenth century with our present moment may be said to consist in part of a revolution in banking and monetary policy. The rise of the great merchant class meant that money, not just property, could dominate and control the state apparatus and that overseas markets could help insure this fiscal "revolution." If the separation of use value from exchange value was emerging with the other features of capitalism, the analogue today may be the separation of exchange value from any commensu­ rate commodity at all. Exchange value is itself traded in the form of paper: enter futures, debt markets, arbitrage. The scope and speed of international finance are, of course, quite different from the com­ paratively limited and slow changes of Shadwell's world. But, now as then, the implications for the interface between public and private are "serious." The play's foundation, then, is the Brechtian historicization of finance. Churchill, together with director Max Stafford-Clark, developed Serious Money on the Joint Stock model of research and workshops


After Brecht

with the company before the composition of the text. The script in­ cludes thanks to the people in the "City" (London's financial district) who talked with the company. The play represents a wide variety of persons involved in the world of the play: different classes, different races, different genders. The company of eight played twenty roles. Because the characters are only developed according to their function as positions within the business network, the effect is like that in Light Shining, in which character represents more a positioning than discrete individuality. Brecht's spectatorial triangle works here through a broadly played etching of these characters. The play, however, is definitely "about" how ideology maps itself onto personal life, how the values of the work world permeate and consume all aspects of "private" life. The play is perhaps Chur­ chill's most Brechtian play in that humor and theatricality combine to render every stage picture a social gest and every central moment an A-effect. As a piece of criticism aimed at the Thatcher government on the eve of election, it is less complex and probing than many of Churchill's other plays; as a piece of political theater, its style and sting are unmistakably epic. The action moves through two interrelated plots, one a murder mystery and the other a quest. When Jake Todd, a commercial paper dealer trading insider information, turns up dead, his sister Scilla sets out to find the murderer. As for the quest plot, Billy Corman, corporate raider, wants to take over Albion Corporation. Because Jake did business with Corman, the plots are interrelated, yet Chur­ chill changes their more predictable features. In the case of the mur­ der mystery it is never solved. In addition, instead of Scilla's motiva­ tion being to avenge her brother or even to seek the truth about the killing, it is to pick up the "shady" but lucrative business that Jake was involved in—to find out about it in order to get in on it. In the case of the quest Corman does not overcome the obstacles and get the Grail (Albion), nor does he lose at the market game. The govern­ ment steps in and forbids him to continue the fight. It seems that, in an election year, bad publicity about City greed will not help the Tories win. It might even be that Jake was silenced to insure Silence. The dramaturgical key to the play is speed. International finance moves so fast that it is hard to follow and hard to control. For those involved, current information, split-second judgments, and an indefatigible attention span are a must. Churchill has constructed a play

Caryl Churchill


that moves at the speed of its subject. In the scenes on the floor in which dealers talk on two phones at once and the female "runners" get physically mauled trying to cross the room, the conversations overlap in a barely distinguishable babble. Using a more elaborate notation system than she used for overlapping speech in plays like Top Girls and Fen, Churchill forces the audience into the "speed" mode of the characters. In one scene she sets up four speeches as a round of stock offers, "i.e., each starts at slash in previous speech and continues with all speeches as long as required. At the end of each speech, each shouts out the amount of stock the person at the other end of the phone has agreed to buy, e.g., twenty thousand, a hundred thousand" (48). This device of overlapping speech has both a representational and a presentational A-effect. It foregrounds the isolation of individuals who only have enough time to listen for the "gist" of what they are being told or who do not listen at all if the information is not "hot." For the audience the experience of receiving the script positions them to participate in the process being repre­ sented, to both be aware of it and to "try it on." An additional strategy to speed up the action is the use of rhymed verse (shades of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which with similarly broad strokes achieves both comic and "serious" thematic effects). The people in the world of Serious Money seem to be on a rhythmic machine on which they obsessively fall into the speeded-up time of some macabre money music. The rhythm is almost irrestible: Dealing with Biddulph? I just sent her some flowers. What the fuck does she think—? She's meant to be one of ours. I tried to call her this morning but I got the machine. Leave a message after the tone? I'll leave something obscene. (49) Both plot lines further speed the action as the pressure mounts surrounding the Albion "deal" and as Scilla gets more persistent about getting information about Jake. In a particularly Brechtian gestic sequence Scilla impersonates a model in a series of publicity pho­ tos with Corman in order to get the opportunity to question him. The public relations idea is to create a celebrity bad-guy image for Corman (one who chases ladies) in order to get public approval for the Albion takeover. The last thing Corman wants is to be associated with Jake


After Brecht

Todd's death. So, while Scilla deals with him for information, the pictures are giving her blackmail leverage. Caught in the trap, Corman gives her the information about Jake in exchange for the pic­ tures, then offers her a job: "Most of the people who work for me are mentally defective" (95). The abilities to be fast, ruthless, and persis­ tent are the most valuable assets in this game. An elaborate game is exactly what is played. Churchill makes explicit the connections between games, gambling, children's play, winning, greed, and speed. The traders and dealers play the horses from the floor. They automatically place ten-pound bets on the amount of the restaurant bill. While drinking together and trying to decide how best to collect Jake's inheritance, Scilla and Grimes play a dice game called Pass the Pig, allowing for double entendres: Grimes: Snouter, trotter. There's the money he's made already. There's a lot o' Money still owing him, bound to be, And why can't that be collected by you and me? It's just a matter of tracing his contacts, innit. They'll want him replacing./ Snouter! Scilla: You'll pig out in a minute. There's someone who killed him. (84) Scilla has chosen a job trading on the floor, although her rich father could have gotten her a different job. She likes the rough and tumble: "It's the most fun I've had since playing cops and robbers with Jake when we were children" (54). Grimes is a working-class yob who does well in this competitive new field. While Scilla's dad and old-boy friends think him vulgar, Grimes feels fine: My school reports used to say I was too aggressive (but it's come in quite useful). My old headmaster wouldn't call me a fool again. I got a transfer fee like a footballer. He thought I was a hooligan. He goes, you fool boy, you're never going to get to work, What use is a CSE in metalwork? I could kiss his boots the day he kicked me out of school.


Caryl Churchill


For Corman winning is all. As for the Albion deal, he claims he doesn't know anything about the company; he just wants it. Eventu­ ally, he is willing to risk anything to win, even investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry: "I don't care if I go to jail, I'll win whatever the cost. /They may say I'm a bastard but they'll never say I lost" (98). And, as for Marylou Baines, American arbitrageur, she quotes Boesky: "'Greed is all right. Greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself'" (45). In this brave new world even sex is sublimated to the game/ gambling/greed nexus. The people in Serious Money never make it— either because they have literally no time or no energy. In a classic scene Zac and Jacinta try to find an unbooked time in their schedules to meet. From possible breakfast through 1:00 a .m . it proves impos­ sible because of business. At the end of the play they do have time to spend together. Then Jacinta says: "I am very happy. My feeling for you is deep. But will you mind very much if we go to sleep?" (104). In most cases screwing and getting screwed is just another aspect of the business: it describes the competitive struggle to make money rather than to make love. This conflation of violence with sex has precedent in Cloud 9, when Lin's biother, a soldier in Northern Ireland, delivers a monologue of distorted eroticism. In Serious Money the combination of hostility and sex breaks out most virulently in the song that closes the first act: Out you cunt, out in oh fuck it I've dealt the gelt below the belt and I'm jacking up the ackers My front's gone short, fuck off old sport, you're standing on my knackers I've spilt my guts, long gilt's gone nuts and I think I'm going crackers So full of poo I couldn't screw, I fucked it with my backers (61) Mad Forest In her recent play, Mad Forest (1990), a response to the revolutions of 1989 and the end of the Cold War, Caryl Churchill focuses on ordinary Romanian citizens. She employs a Brechtian structure of scene titles, various gestic alienation devices, and epic narrative tech-


After Brecht

niques in order to show the ways in which ideology is inscribed in daily life and how it shifts and changes under various social pres­ sures. This play is closest in feeling and perhaps even theme to A Mouthful of Birds because both plays represent the social construction of personal, interior life, its contradictions and its failures. Churchill shows people who are caught up in the days of the December revolu­ tion but who do not have an alternative vision nor even an under­ standing about what is taking place. Their confusion is clarified in the concise, orderly skeleton of Churchill's dramaturgy, which is differ­ ent from the dreamlike, movement-oriented structure she devised with David Lan, a choreographer, for Mouthful of Birds. This is Chur­ chill's least Brechtian play, both because of its thematic emphasis on irrational and unexplainable behaviors and because its theatrical means are less epic and more imagistic and surreal. Mad Forest, on the other hand, shows Churchill's consummate ability to treat even inner life within an epic structure. Romania, which had one of the most repressive authoritarian re­ gimes, also had the least organized opposition. Revolution there was the effect of a spontaneous mass revolt, and Romania had no tradi­ tion of strong parliament, free elections, or political culture. The Ro­ manian National Salvation Front appeared only after the December revolt and consisted of many of the old leaders of the Ceausescu regime. As in the case of Bulgaria, the former communist ruling elites were able to win the multiparty elections that occured in the wake of the initial changes.44 Churchill and Central School students visited Romania in the spring following the December revolution, before the May election of Iliescu and the National Salvation Front. Thus, their research took place at a time when people were trying to sort out the meaning of the vast changes in Romania and the possibilities for the future. The play is divided into three parts, representing life before, during, and after the events of December. Two families, one middle class, one working class, serve to focus the first and third sections; the second section is made up of the stories of many disconnected individual citizens, who narrate their experiences from December 21 to December 28. In the beginning, before the revolution, Radu, from the middleclass family, cannot marry Fiorina, who is from the working-class

Caryl Churchill


family, because her sister Lucia is going to marry an American. After­ ward Lucia's decision to stay in Romania and be with Ianos, a Hun­ garian, also meets with disapproval. In both cases the discrimination is political—against those perceived as "oppositions." Before the revolution the opposition was external and was expressed in Cold War terminology (capitalist vs. socialist). After the revolution the opposition is internal and is expressed in nationalist terminology (ethnic prejudice). The play abounds in such ironic contrasts. During the first part talking is dangerous because the Ceausescu regime monitors every­ thing. The working-class family has a radio, which is turned on loud whenever they want to talk about something sensitive. The middleclass family just doesn't interact, especially Flavia, who talks to the ghost of her grandmother rather than to her husband. When Lucia goes to the doctor to arrange an abortion they speak a "politically correct" top text, in which he tells her to get married and that there is no abortion in Romania, while the bottom text shows the exchange of money and agreement about the procedure. These different Brechtian gests of talking (or not) enable the relationship between communication and ideology to become visible. The third part of the play shows the difficulty of communicating within the newfound freedom. In typical Churchill fashion people speak over other's lines, disagreements flare, confrontations become violent. Official lies of the official regime are replaced with personal lies and half-truths. Radu excoriates his mother, Flavia, for telling him when he was seven that she loved Elena Ceausescu. He is a radical student, angry with both parents for their support of the Front, which he considers counterrevolutionary. His father, an archi­ tect, strikes back at his son's attack on their privilege by saying that Radu was able to get into the art institute because of his father's connections. Radu leaves, crushed, and Mihai confesses that it was a lie. When what has been silenced is unleashed, the repressed con­ tradictions in social life become visible. Some are gender tensions, some are ethnic, some are generational, and some are class based. The last scene of the play is called "We wish you happiness." Radu is finally marrying Fiorina, since the matter of Lucia's American husband is now irrelevant. The families have, however, new sets of tensions. Gabriel has been wounded and is therefore a hero of the revolution. But, unfortunately, it isn't clear what exactly happened


After Brecht

Mad Forest, by Caryl Churchill. Royal Court Theatre, 1990. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.

and who is in power or who should be voted in. Radu battles his father for supporting the Front. The families have made up, but now Lucia has come home from the United States and is keeping company with Ianos. Hungarians, however, are the ethnic "problem" (along with Gypsies). In scenes of special Brechtian effect on U.S. audiences, the family objects to their daughter marrying a Hungarian, and epi­ taphs fly: "Get your hands off my sister you dirty Hungarian." The notion that they (Hungarians) might want to speak their own language in the schools is dismissed: "If they want to live in Romania, they can speak Romanian" (83) .45 The combination of resentments and disputes culminates in a physical scuffle involving both families. Churchill ends the play with a final dance in which everyone gradually talks at the same time. Moving together in the dance, but isolated in their personal utterances, the last lines belong to a surreal vampire charac­ ter: "You begin to want blood. Your limbs ache, your head burns, you have to keep moving faster and faster" (87). The middle section of the play also calls up an impression of isolated individuals, struggling to find a position in relation to the revolutionary events taking place around them. In performance the

Caryl Churchill


group of isolated individuals giving their different perspectives cre­ ates a Brechtian interlude, or break in the action. The audience is invited to consider the differences between perspectives and the epistemological questions it raises: What did happen, and what is the "truth"? One girl had a fight with her mother at breakfast, went out for a walk, and missed the entire action on December 21. One bull­ dozer driver, who was working at the People's Palace, abandoned his work and came back as an onlooker. A doctor went to work on the twenty-second and discovered there were fourteen dead and nine­ teen wounded and "no one knew what had happened" (35). People went out into the streets and got caught up in the demonstrations. Others hurried home to be with their families or to listen to Radio Free Europe. One member of the Securitate explains: "On the 22 the army went over to the side of the people. I gave my pistol to an army officer and both magazines were full. That's why I'm here now. I had no more superiors and I wanted to get home. I caught the train and stayed in watching what happened on TV" (37). Although throughout the play Churchill portrays the confusion and personal isolation of people, there appears to be one thing that unites them: hatred for Ceausescu. At one point the young people from both families enact the execution of the Ceausescus. It is appar­ ently a well-known skit. Laced with parody and macabre farce, they mock-shoot them both, yelling at Ceausescu: "Gypsy. Murderer. Illit­ erate. We've all fucked your wife. We're fucking her now. Let her have it. We fucked your wife. Your turn now. Murderer. Bite your throat out" (70-71). Thus, ethnic and misogynist slurs lace the rheto­ ric of rejection and hate that they hurl at the past. They all hated Ceausescu, but beyond him they are not sure what is happening to them or to their country. Mad Forest is structurally rather like Cloud 9 in that the analysis of Victorian society is superseded by an analysis of a new, "free" society that has its own ills and shortcomings. Similarly, Mad Forest shows the oppression of Romanian life under the Ceausescu regime to be superseded by a complicated and dystopic version of modern life in a free, "democratic" society. Churchill gives us to understand that, while the socialist vision may not be viable in this postmodern, postrevolutionary age, the trade-off is not all positive. People lack a notion of unity or community that transcends ethnic, class, and gen­ der differences.

io 6

After Brecht

Mad Forest has been very successful in England and in the United States, where productions in New York and various regional loca­ tions including Berkeley, California, have provided audiences with a detailed, compelling representation of the aftermath of Romania's revolution. When I saw the Berkeley Repertory production I was struck by the audience's response to the breaking of the eggs—they gasped. They had internalized the meaning of scarcity enough to respond involuntarily and then to watch while the actress ever so slowly and carefully scooped the egg back up. The other remarkable effect from the production, directed by Mark Wing-Davey (the origi­ nal director), was the spectacle of the vampire scene. Like some of the nightmare imagery of A Mouthful of Birds, this scene between vampire and dog (a naked man on all fours) seemed puzzling on the page, although I understood the resonances of the Romanian folklore tradition of vampires and the associations with blood, violence, feast­ ing, and the living dead. In performance the scene works with this trope but has a much more immediate political meaning as a clear Brechtian social gestus: the poor dog, like lonely and confused citi­ zens in an anarchic state, prefers even a death-dealing master to no master at all: Vampire: Do you belong to anyone? Dog: I used to but he threw me out. I miss him. I hate him. Vampire: He probably couldn't feed you. Dog: He beat me. But now nobody talks to me. Vampire: I'm talking to you. Dog: Will you keep me? The vampire was dressed in the elegant black overcoat of an aristo­ crat; the dog was a commoner. The subtitle of the scene is, "Ciinelui ii e foame. The dog is hungry." In many ways, then, Caryl Churchill can be seen as one of Brecht's successors. This is not to detract from her unique and original achievement as one of the most important playwrights of our time, nor do I wish to minimize the tensions between Brecht and feminism. But, while many feminist writers have moved away from Brecht in order to write more directly about women's inner psychological and subjective lives, Churchill has shown most classically the ways

Caryl Churchill


Brechtian techniques can configure even these "personal" concerns. It seems almost paradoxical that, in dealing with "personal" material, Hare and even Brenton have found Brecht more confining than Churchill and have moved further away from him in their work. The present, however, builds on and transforms the past, and it behooves scholars and practitioners to examine both the legacy and the tran­ scendence. Churchill's epic structures, character strategies, and ap­ proach to history are reworkings of Brecht's Alienation techniques. They are also specific strategies for achieving a socialist feminist aes­ thetic and practical resources for effective and politically acute con­ temporary representation.

Chapter 4

David Hare: Social Gestus in Private Scenes

David Hare is one of the more unlikely playwrights to be included in this book, both because he strenuously protests against any pro­ posed affinity with Brecht and because, without doubt, his great dramatic strength is the representation of personal and interpersonal crises, not something usually associated with epic theater. Neverthe­ less, Hare has written the most exemplary epic play of his generation, Fanshen (1975), and has also shown, in what I choose to call his "personal plays," how a modern appropriation of some epic tech­ niques can produce a dramaturgy unique to the playwright and yet related to the Brechtian project, intentionally or not. Hare absolutely rejects any suggestion that Brecht might be a positive influence on his work. Besides a distaste for Brecht as a human being—"he was a very objectionable man"—he cites several areas of total disagreement with Brecht's views: I think his ideas about political theatre are really mistaken. The idea of the Alienation Effect seems to me absurd in that it is so clear that the purpose of the exercise is to involve the audience, so that to discuss uninvolving them seems to me a complete waste of time. It's incredibly hard to get people to go to the theatre; it's incredibly hard to move them when they are there. Your whole ambition is not that they should identify; I don't identify when I go to the theatre, but I do want to forget the passage of time. In particular, what theatre can do to time in the sense that you wake up, and an hour's gone by, or that very short things seem very long, very long things seem very short— all that which, if you like is art—those things are wonderful things and I can't see any point in destroying them.1



After Brecht

This objection to Brecht's A-effect reacts to Brecht's mistrust of the audience's emotional experience, something which Hare not only does not share but, quite the opposite, finds essential to theatrical representation. Most of Hare's plays offer the opportunity to under­ stand how a character or a group of characters comes to make per­ sonal choices within a specific social and historical context. The audi­ ence is asked to see and understand the complexity of the situation and then to pass judgment on it. While Brecht was afraid that identifi­ cation with the character's subjective state would serve to dull judg­ ment, to blur distinctions and thus leave the audience with a "culi­ nary" attitude, Hare believes that judgment comes from confronting the contradictions of the characters in moments of personal crisis and that "in the act of judging the audience learns something about its own values."2 Emotions and mood facilitate this understanding rather than block it. While Hare and Brecht hold opposing views of the function of the emotions in theatrical representation, these positions are medi­ ated by reference to their particular historical circumstances. Both men are/were reacting to conditions in the theater of their times. For Brecht a deadly cult of sentimentalism flourished, of which he wanted no part. Heavy German emotionalism was part of the ideo­ logical baggage of the German theater. The interruption of the habit­ ual mode of representation was essential if people were to think critically about what they were seeing. For Hare, in a different time and place, the problem of involving the spectators at all—of securing some personal investment in the narrative—entails a set of English traditions of theatrical representation that are, by contrast, "cooler," more dispassionate. To provoke critical engagement the audience must be moved beyond detached speculation: the lethargy of spectatorship is the enemy of both men, but the means of combating it are different in incommensurable contexts. David Hare went to Cambridge to read English literature with Raymond Williams. But when he got there, in 1965, he found himself bitterly disagreeing with Williams almost from the beginning. Hare believed that Williams and the intelligensia of which he was a mem­ ber did not have an understanding of the working class. Also, he felt that "anyone who's been in this country for ten minutes knows there isn't going to be a revolution led by the workers and [he] couldn't understand why [Williams] was fooling himself that there could be."3

David Hare


In addition to disagreements about the role of the intelligensia in any revolutionary struggle, Hare also rebelled against the institution with which he saw Williams as complicitous: the university as organ of the state apparatus inculcating English ideology. For example, he re­ jected the notion of an approved list of books, anticipating contempo­ rary objections to the "canon." The entire experience at Cambridge was less satisfying than the public school education that his parents had struggled to provide, and he ended "very pissed off by the feel­ ing of cynicism in the way English studies were run," finding the university "very narcissistic—very ingrown and self-conscious."4 In Teeth 'n' Smiles (1975), Hare manages to make his assessment of Cam­ bridge quite clear, as the play takes place on the campus and Arthur, the songwriter who also went to school there, describes the under­ graduates as "rich, complacent self-loving self-regarding self-righ­ teous phoney half-baked politically immature neurotic evil-minded little shits."5 At this time Hare was not writing, although he was doing some directing. He did not know a great deal about the experimental the­ ater of his day, had not seen an Edward Bond play, had never heard of La Mama, and was unaware of the visit of the Berliner Ensemble. When he started the Portable Theatre with Tony Bicat, they were interested in establishing a direct relationship between the actors and an audience in places where theater did not normally go. They shared a perception of the mainstream theater as "rhetorical, over-produced, lavish, saying nothing, conventional."6 When he started writing seri­ ously, Hare was aware of another aspect of dissent from the central concerns of modernism: "When I began working, the theatre was largely psychological, it was a study of individuals and states of mind which were seen in isolation, plays were hermetic. It didn't seem to me that most of us lived isolated lives, and I didn't believe that life was absurd and all that lonely angst of the 20th century writer—I was drawn to the notion that people live their lives together and that, in fact, something could be done."7 In fact, Hare realized that it was impossible to avoid being a part of social and political life, a dilemma that he incorporates into many of his plays and film scripts, notably A Map of the World (1983) and Weatherby (1985). He has worked three times on a projected screenplay of Joseph Conrad's novel Victory, which has unfortunately not been made, which he considers to be the story of the man who tries to escape from life only to find that he


After Brecht

cannot, that life will come and get him. Hare, himself, believes Conrad and finds that this view of the inescapable nature of social life lies "at the heart of my notion of politics." "I'm not an ideological writer, I'm just saying that you're involved in it [politics] whether you like it or not because its's to do with how people behave together."8 Often in Hare's work a protagonist will attempt to set her- or himself above or outside responsibility for what is happening in the present by referring to the past or by adopting a superior position of opposi­ tion. Susan in Plenty (1978), Mehta in Map of the World, and Maggie in Teeth V Smiles come immediately to mind, but this focus on the inevitable connection between personal behavior and its social and political consequences is one of the strongest themes throughout Hare's work and is remarkably similar to a major theme of Mother Courage and Galileo, namely, the futility of trying to avoid the politi­ cal consequences of personal action.9 In writing for the theater, Hare has encountered an aspect of theater as dramatic genre that he detests and that he concedes Brecht also loathed—a structural emphasis on bourgeois morality: It is a moral form, and two-thirds of the way through any play the audience expects to be told what it should do; there is some­ thing inexorable about the shape of the theatre. What Ibsen would call the obligation scene must be there—it tends to be the scene that hovers over the evening and for which the audience is wait­ ing. I can see that Brecht hated that bourgeois preaching, that he's trying to say, "I'm drier, hipper, nastier, than all you bour­ geois moralists,"10 and really it's a complaint about the theatre, that theatre is almost inevitably a bourgeois form, and it sort of is. Chekhov is as much as anybody a bourgeois moralist. He pretended, "Oh, I'm not passing judgments on these people," but he did, and there's no way round it in the theatre, although you wriggle around it. I know that if writers don't give the audi­ ence the sense of that scene, the audience feels disgruntled. I'm sick of having a finger wagged at me—both of wagging a finger and having one wagged at me. I can't bear all that. I just cringe the minute anybody tells me how I should live my life. I hate the preachiness of the theatre. It's very hard to avoid preachifying. . . there's absolutely no way to keep a serious moral theme from emerging in the theatre, I mean you can't stop it.11

David Hare


In fact, David Hare writes about a number of serious moral issues and will admit to a concern with such questions; it is the formulaic answer that is loathsome. In his work, therefore, one almost always finds strategic ambiguity, a deliberate attempt to keep the audience from arriving at a pat answer to the questions of the evening. Whether by insisting on portraying characters in contradictory behav­ iors or by refusing to yield up any tidy or one-sided resolution—or, in the case of A Map of the World, by a metatechnique whereby the dramatic genre itself is foregrounded and its conventions revealed— David Hare confounds the thirst for the obligation scene. Brecht's alienation techniques relative to character and his episodic structure had a similar purpose. In the contemporary theater dissatisfaction with Brecht's plays most often falls on those texts that, in the end, provide too much message and too formal a closure (e.g., Caucasian Chalk Circle and Good Person.) Political theater, if it is to be at all subversive, has a twofold task: to cut through the representations of the dominant ideology, which are usually "naturalized" to become noneffects (i.e., to pass by unno­ ticed), and, second, to discover and circumvent the ways in which the theatrical apparatus serves this ideology and reinscribes it auto­ matically. Interrupting this hegemony may require various ap­ proaches in different historical and cultural contexts, but spectators must experience some discomfort, whether called "Verfremdung" ef­ fect or something else. David Hare's pointed rejection of any connec­ tion to Brecht has organized the discussion so far; the following sec­ tions read Brecht intertextually with Hare's play scripts, quite apart from the question of intention, in order to see what structural and characterological techniques accomplish these ends. Fanshen Turning first to Fanshen, it deserves separate treatment because it is in some ways atypical of Hare's work and, at the same time, the most obviously Brechtian of his plays. William Gaskill's direction of the original Joint Stock production contributes to the completeness of the Brechtian dramaturgy that emerged in this production. Gaskill has remarked several times that he was rather surprised when David Hare indicated interest in adapting William Hinton's 700-page novel about the Chinese revolution in the village of Long Bow. Hare cites


After Brecht

the opportunity to write about an instance of positive change: "The excitement of Fanshen was to write about a society and to cover a period of time in which one felt that peoples' lives were being materi­ ally and spiritually improved, in a culture that was completely differ­ ent to anything we knew about."12 It became his first production with Joint Stock, a company that he helped found, and was the only time he has worked with William Gaskill and Max Stafford-Clark in the capacity of writer. The production came within the first year of the company's exis­ tence. The development and rehearsal procedures set the style and tone of the company's work for the next few years, and, when the Fanshen model was no longer workable for Joint Stock, some of Joint Stock's original vitality and excellence waned. The key features of the work included a workshop period for the actors, writer, and direc­ tors, who researched the source material and other aspects of Chi­ nese life and acted out various scenes and fragments to experiment with ways of representing the material. David Hare went off by him­ self for four months and wrote an actual script; then Gaskill and Stafford-Clark took it into rehearsal. The preparation period also involved a direct attempt to take on some of the political organization and ideas of the Long Bow commu­ nity. From the beginning the decision was taken to decentralize authority and to work as equals, the directors and writer alongside the actors. As an exercise, they implemented a classification system similar to that in the play, in which they told one another how much money they made from their theater work. Gaskill remarks on that as being, in itself, revolutionary, since English actors rarely talk about their salaries. Simon Callow writes about the workshop: "The form of the Chinese revolution had seemed of direct relevance; the con­ stant questioning and above all self-questioning seemed directly ap­ plicable to the rehearsal process."13 At the end of each week the company met in a session of self-criticism, similar to the "Gates," which the leaders of Long Bow underwent. Hare writes: "The adop­ tion of a rehearsal process based on the Chinese political method of 'Self-Report, Public Appraisal' might, in other hands and with other material, have degenerated into a gimmick. But here it had weight and was surprisingly quick and effective. The self-criticism was real."14 The actors developed a commitment to portraying the truth

David Hare


of the historical situation, led by Gaskill's commitment to represent the sufferings of the Chinese peasants. This production marked the most politically engaged work of Joint Stock; later the company struggled over its politics or lack of same. This way of working, in which the actors control and invest in the meaning of their work, seems to Hare to be extremely political, and to make a perceptible difference in production: "It does alter the nature of the evening you see, it transforms it; if the actor means it, it makes a difference."15 Formally, this relationship between actors and material is represented in the opening of the play, in which the actors begin by presenting one piece of information about Long Bow to the audience and by introducing the characters they will play. Since the company of nine, however, plays over thirty parts, the actors invest in the narrative about Long Bow's people rather than in one particular character's point of view. The introductory section of the play is only one of its formal Brechtian elements; Gaskill considers Fanshen the "most epic play" he's ever done. "The theory [Brechtian] was absolutely appropriate to the script."16 Some of Fanshen's formal elements associated with Brecht's production style include legends and banners that clarify the action or provide organizing slogans ("Settling Accounts," "Never Trust A Landlord, Never Protect A Landlord," "There Is Only One Road and That Is To Struggle Against Them"). The script calls for an epic aesthetic in design: no sets, no elaborate lighting, authentic props, and costumes. William Gaskill's interpretation of Brecht in England relies heavily on a direct relationship to objects as a means of establishing the social gest of the scenes.17 Max Stafford-Clark's rehearsal diary records Gaskill's query to the actors about what one prop they needed; they responded a hoe, a rifle, a pipe.18 The approach of the company and the directors to the material and to Hare's script contributed to the integration of politics and aesthetics. For the workshop actors improvised speeches denouncing something they were against or argued the values of Marxism. Actor Pauline Melville found this approach novel and valuable: "It was an example of the beginning of a way of working that I had never come across in English theatre before, where instead of concentrating solely on character, individual motivation and so forth, we would undertake some sort of class analysis and look at the work from a


After Brecht

political perspective."19 Gaskill and also Stafford-Clark shaped the episodes by identifying the political meaning of the scene. This was an established method for Gaskill; Stafford-Clark discovered it in re­ hearsal.20 They worked simultaneously, sometimes in opposite cor­ ners of the room, and then showed each other their work; it was an exemplary collaboration. Gaskill cites this method of shaping scenes as something he took directly from Brecht and also as a principle of blocking never to move anyone until something in the action changes.21 As noted, this has become an essential element in Hare's work, too—an element of composition that he compares to film rather than to Brecht: "The movement of a play is like the principle of film cutting—you must not cut until something has happened." Each of the sections in the play has a central action that illustrates some new lesson or event central to the struggle to fanshen in Long Bow. The word fanshen came out of the Chinese revolution and means "to turn the body," or "to turn over," in some way similar to the notion of turning over a new leaf, although of course a good deal more radical. Hare writes: "To China's hundreds of millions of land­ less and land-poor peasants it meant to stand up, to throw off the landlord's yoke, to gain land, stock, implements and houses. But it meant much more than this. It meant to enter a new world."22 The play asks how this transformation was possible and shows how it got started, how the community made progress with the help of the Communist Party leadership, and how it was necessary to continu­ ally appraise and revise the strategies for accomplishing fanshen. The play is an illustration of the Marxist concept of praxis: it shows theory developing and revising itself through practice in such a way that the distinction between the two terms is a false dichotomy. From Hinton's lengthy book Hare extracted his own version of the narrative. It begins at the point when the peasants are first asked to take responsibility for governing themselves by accusing and try­ ing those who collaborated with the Japanese. In choosing this point of entry, Hare passed over 175 pages, which describe the violence and cruelty of the landlords before the revolution. He says he was told that portraying them "would be very Brechtian," so, since he hated Brecht, he "chucked [that] out first thing." Of course, such melodrama would, largely, not be Brechtian; on the contrary, Cauca­ sian Chalk Circle does not show the violence of prerevolutionary Rus­

David Hare

il 7

sia, nor does Mother Courage portray the carnage of the Thirty Years' War. Brechtian narratives always begin with the social condition to be examined. The various episodes that follow show the people who live in the village becoming progressively able to take public, commu­ nal action, to organize themselves into the Peasants' Association, the Women's Association, the Village Government, the People's Militia, and, especially, to reason their way through to collective judgments concerning the affairs of Long Bow. The script is very rich and manages to examine many aspects of Long Bow's revolution, but four major imperatives emerge from Hare's adaptation. 1. The Necessity for Assuming Personal and Collective Responsibility Those who are accustomed to being oppressed are not empowered to make their own decisions. Through fear of reprisal and the habit of seeing themselves as dependent on the landlords, the peasants of Long Bow have had no experience of fashioning justice. In section 2, "Asking Basic Questions," T'ien-ming begins the process: "If we peasants are to organize ourselves we must know why. We must start with questions. We must find an answer to the most important ques­ tion. Who depends upon whom for a living?" (13). The peasants struggle with this question. They first think that they are dependent on the landlords. They have the land, they have the money; if they do not "cheat," the peasants have no complaint. Gradually, through examining their own life experiences, they begin to see that the entire system is backward, that they make the landlord's wealth possible: "What can they do which we can't? Nothing. What can we do which they can't? We can work. Our labour transforms their land. We make it valuable, we create their wealth.. . . We make them rich, they de­ pend on our labour, they depend on us" (15). This discovery is neces­ sary before Long Bow can begin to change the system. The scene represents the process of coming to this discovery through thought and discussion. As happens many times in the play, slogans appear, saying, "They Talked for Eight Hours," "They Talked for Three Days." This information is central to fanshen. Democracy takes time; people must keep on talking. Collective responsibility develops from this exchange.

After Brecht


2. The Superiority of Practical Political Solutions to Abstract Ideals The peasants of Long Bow redistribute their land three times in the course of the play. The first time the village cadres decide who will get how much (land, grain, implements, objects). It is distributed, to some extent, according to merit; for example, Hsueh-chen does not get as much as others because she does not speak out at meet­ ings. The second time, because not enough people have fanshened and some inequities persist, the Land to the Tiller program redistrib­ utes the land soley on the basis of current holdings and the number of people in the family. The poorest peasants in the village conduct the classifications of villagers into poor, middle, and rich peasants. The third time the party asks the village to correct the mistakes of the second distribution: too much has been taken away from the middle peasants, so they have become alienated and the rich peas­ ants have not been given enough to make a living. Thus, es­ sentially, the village is being asked to undo what has been done and in some cases to give back what has been taken. Each attempt at distribution seeks a better, more exact solution, but justice exists only in context and only on a provisional, transi­ tional basis. Learning the necessity of revision and change, the peas­ ants experience the historical overturning of any particular notion of justice as circumstances mandate a reformulation of the appropriate action for a given moment.23 The play portrays the necessity and difficulty of these changes for villagers and party leadership alike. As the elderly Tui-chin says: "Under the Nationalists, too many taxes. Under the Communists, too many meetings" (30). The final section of the play shows the work team leadership approach the peasants in order to enlist them in this next stage of fanshen. In different groups, on different parts of the stage, the es­ sential elements of self-governing democracy are enacted: the change, the explanation, the discussion. Each cadre gets to the question: I'd like to know what you think. What do you think? Tell me. Let me know what you think. What do you think about this?

David Hare

Fanshen, by David Hare. National Theatre, April 1988. Directed by Les Wa­ ters. Photograph by Michael Mayhew, courtesy of David Hare.

This distinction between ideal and practical justice was a major point of discussion between David Hare and William Hinton when Hare was revising the script for a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television version. Hare has commented several times about a particular line that, at Hinton's request, he removed.24 Hare's ac­ count of this issue is worth quoting at length: The only way I could do Fanshen was through my own bourgeois morality; William Hinton is not a moralist, he's a Marxist. It's a play about how to structure justice, but it is not about fairness. There was a line, which was probably an absolutely terrible line, "people need justice like bread." Sometimes there's a line which may not seem to make very much difference, but to you [as playwright], it's the line you're working toward and which you're working away from. That is the way I wrote Fanshen and then when I took it to Hinton, he said, "and the line which I hate most in this play is . . . " And of course when I took it out, I saw that it didn't really matter.25

After Brecht


Hinton's problem was with the notion of justice as something abstract, ahistorical, absolute. The changes Hare made in the text clarify this distinction when Party Secretary Ch'en replies to Little Li's confusion: Little Li: I thought it was justice, I thought we were interested in justice. Ch'en: Not as an abstract, as a practical thing. We've done what we can. From now on everyone's improvement must depend on production, on their new land, their new tools. If we'd gone on trying to equalize we'd have destroyed even that. (68) 3. Good Leadership Entails Self-Criticism One of the most compelling aspects of Fanshen is the representation of the peasants learning to criticize and judge themselves. First, the village leaders do public self-criticism at what is called "the Gate." Cheng-k'uan, who has been chairman of the Peasants' Association, acknowledges his mistakes and his excesses of anger and of self­ serving behavior. He is urged to tell the truth, to be objective: "Being criticized doesn't mean saying yes to everything" (44). Deciding on the proper response to his behavior proves difficult ("They talked for six hours"). Rather than throw him out of the party or send him away to the People's Court, thereby signifying that they couldn't them­ selves decide, they finally agree to suspend him from office for six months, after which he will have another chance to pass the Gate. The scene depicts the struggle to tell the truth and the struggle to find the appropriate response; the interrelatedness of the two is clear. When the work party receives criticism from the party secretary, the issue is accepting it without losing the ability to keep leading. Hou has a hard time criticizing himself because he thinks leaders must be strong, that they must not make mistakes. His response to his own shortcomings is to think he should quit. His work party comrades tell him that he is "wrong, wrong, wrong." It is just an­ other way of trying to be a hero. Specific, objective self-criticism is needed and then he must go back and set about reclassifying the village. Even Party Secretary Ch'en is forced to acknowledge his mis­ takes in the matter of land reform. Accused by Little Li, he assents:

David Hare


"Primary responsibility for this last mistake rests with us at County headquarters. I take the blame" (67). The main action in these scenes is the struggle to come to the admission of error and to draw balanced and appropriate conclusions concerning error. 4. Personal Vengeance Is Counterproductive When Yu-Lai and his son Wen-te are finally brought before the Gate and broken, the effect is dramatically satisfying. These village leaders had used their offices to obtain personal gain, had attacked a member of the work party, and, worst of all, had repeatedly beaten and abused Hsien-e, Went-te's wife. They have terrorized the village, and, because they were imprisoned without what we would call due process (without adequate evidence), they are released, and it ap­ pears they will get away with their crimes. But because Hsien-e and others agree in spite of their great fear to give evidence against them, Yu-Lai and Wen-te are finally brought before the village and accused. The scene enacts the coming to the point of accusation, not the grad­ ual breaking down of the two men (that would be individual psychol­ ogy; it is not pertinent). The scene also refuses to sustain the dramatic satisfaction of their defeat. Secretary Liu appears and reproaches the village leadership for wasting human beings. Yu-Lai would rather die than go back to prison; he feels the people's hatred, and he cannot face living. The satisfaction of the scene turns over when Secretary Liu reverses it: "How did this happen? You let him lose hope. How could you? Never, never let a man lose hope. It's a waste, to the Party. To the people. It's easy, it's so easy to stamp something out. It's what they do in every country in the world. They cure diseases by killing the patient. But we .. . are going to save the patient" (63). Liu suggests he be sent to a special school for cadres who cannot pass the Gate, rather than to prison. The work team agrees. These four lessons are not the only insights in David Hare's version of William Hinton's account of Long Bow's struggle to fanshen. They do illustrate, however, the social nature of the action portrayed and their practical applications in the staged representa­ tion. There are underlying, and perhaps "moral," assumptions in this text as well: that human beings will reward truth with trust, that reason is stronger than ignorance, that common struggle builds com­

After Brecht


munity. Even these truths, however, are seen to be historical in their specific meanings and subject to revision in the face of shifting condi­ tions and contexts. This most Brechtian of Hare's plays is related thematically to some of the material in his other major works; it is the only one, however, in which a whole village, rather than an individual or a number of individuals, is the protagonist, and the epic dramaturgy of its form and technique is overshadowed by the proliferation of an imagistic and diffused epic strategy appropriate to his more "per­ sonal" plays.

Personal Plays: Social Substance A theatre which is exclusively personal, just a place of private psy­ chology, is inclined to self-indulgence; a theatre which is just social is inclined to unreality. —David Hare, 1978

Writing Left-Handed Teeth 'n' Smiles, Plenty, and A Map of the World are structured around two moments of personal crisis. In the narrative past the key charac­ ters have experienced something like a turning point at which defini­ tive choices about how to live were made. In two of the three plays, this moment was Utopian, full of promise, and associated with the youth of the protagonists. A Map of the World deviates insofar as this pattern is explicit for only one of three main characters while becom­ ing more submerged and complex for the others. The second moment of crisis is faced in the course of each play and involves a reassess­ ment of the wisdom of the original choices in light of personal and also sociohistorical consequences. Thus, some of the questions asked in these plays include how to face the disillusion of a lost Utopia, how to practice dissent without falling into either cynicism or self-destruc­ tiveness, and, especially, how, and if, human beings are capable of change. The structure of these plays is episodic; two of them cover an expanse of time. Teeth 'ri Smiles takes place in the course of one night but represents the historical watershed of 1969. Each play has as its backdrop a particular historical conjuncture: Cambridge University in the late 1960s, England's foreign policy following World War II, a

David Hare


contemporary UNESCO conference on poverty in India. Each scene is built around one complete action, which gives it focus and coher­ ence. Abrupt changes of mood and perspective accompany scene changes. Deliberately, any seamlessness of the narrative is denied. Discontinuity between events (except in Teeth 'n' Smiles) prevents the dramatic "build" of the obligatory scene in traditional play writing, and none of the three plays delivers this scene. Each play, however, contains an event that might have become this scene: Maggie burns down the tent (Teeth 'n' Smiles), Susan finally leaves Brock (Plenty), and Stephen is killed in the train accident (.A Map of the World). Each of these events is undercut or diverted from being a cathartic and conclusive moment. Hare's cinematic tendencies render intensely focused personal scenes, which dissolve or are interrupted by abrupt changes of mood and image and which require the spectator to shift concern and per­ spective. Writing in 1981, C. W. E. Bigsby succinctly described these techniques: "The force of his images derives from the fact that they grow out of the sensibility of his individual characters but capture the mood of a culture."26 I would say that emotion and mood shifts accomplish an Alienation effect. The alienation is not a question of uninvolvement; on the contrary, it requires deeper, more fundamen­ tal involvement in the complexity of experience than traditional bour­ geois plays—it entails weighing contradictions in and among subjec­ tive experience(s). This is one concession Hare was willing to make to this book's thesis: "You can give a sense of movement in a play by bringing on new characters, bringing more of the real world on with them. And the movement of a play is like the principle of film cutting—you must not cut until something has happened. That sense I do love in Brecht, even if you're an anti-Brechtian as I am, it is the one place I can stick."27 Brecht knew that providing complete psychological explanations for characters' behavior made that behavior seem inevitable, natural. David Hare similarly withholds full explanation of characters' ac­ tions, although he represents aspects of their subjective experience in high relief. We watch characters come to decisions, but they do not explain why in any rational, linear fashion.28 This technique verges on "alienating" conventional, realist notions of how charac­ terization works by pointing to its pretensions to omniscience. Hare


After Brecht

both invites and confounds moral judgments about these characters. In one scene they may seem brave, in another cowardly. Sympathy in one circumstance turns to indignation in another. In Map of the World the actor-character playing Mehta comments on just this expe­ rience in playing the character: "When he's with Peggy, he's charm­ ing. Then when he goes downstairs to the debate, it's like he's not the same person at all. It's a double standard. It's only as you do it that the truth of it comes home."29 This representation of contradic­ tory and nonunified subjectivity both precludes pat moral judgments about human behavior and invites a more extended analysis of how personal behavior is shaped by the dominant social and historical conditions. The "situation" in 1969 is one in which "the acid dream is over," and the Suez crisis simply does not entail the single-minded naïveté of the Resistance. Similarly, persistence in a point of view may be principle—not caving into the establishment, for instance; it may also become its own self-indulgence and irrelevance, as shifting objective conditions change the meaning of indivdual acts. While it is essential to decide which is which, this is also extremely difficult, and is often a temptation to arrogance for the prophet-playwright. In Hare's plays characters are meant to be admired and detested simultaneously or to undergo a changing appraisal as the play devel­ ops. In this fashion "the audience is asked to make up its own mind about each of the actions."30 In Hare's plays, then, alienation of the characters does not mean that one must never experience them sympathetically (of course, not in Brecht either). It does mean that the reaction must be held up to question or fundamentally challenged by the changing circumstances of the social reference point or the internal contradictions of the char­ acter. No major character in a play by David Hare is allowed to claim sustained sympathy nor to be experienced apart from a shifting sociohistorical background.31 The Personal Is Political is not a slogan exclusively appropriate for feminism: it is the basic political condi­ tion. The attempt to separate the two has marked dominant bour­ geois discourse, as has the tendency to occlude the political within the personal. Brecht, reacting against this distortion, tended to oc­ clude the personal within the political. This historical moment pro­ vides opportunity and example to stress the dialogic character of the relationship between the two. Most of the playwrights in this book, and certainly David Hare, further this project.32

David Hare


Teeth 'tt' Smiles "Would you say the ideas expressed in popular music . . . have had the desired effect of changing. . . society in any way?"33 Cambridge medical student Anson asks rock 'n' roll singer Maggie. It is both a laugh line and the serious premise of the play. By 1969 it was clear that rock music had ushered in neither the Age of Aquarius nor any other clearly defined political or social renewal. So, the play is set in the time after a time of possibility, when the moment seems to have slipped by. "I mean," says Maggie, "if there was going to be a revolu­ tion it would have happened by now. I don't think 1970'11 be the big year" (50). Anson's query is, in fact, an overdetermined laugh line. At a Cambridge May Ball at Jesus College, spoiled and self-satisfied un­ dergraduates are completely unresponsive to the music of Maggie's band—songs steeped in a personal rebellious, largely sexual, and antiestablishment rhetoric that is out-of-date. At least Anson is alien­ ated by his surroundings, but he is so completely out of touch with any impulse in the music, or with the reality of Maggie and the band, that the question sounds funny just because it comes out of his mouth. As in Hare's other plays, possibility is usually associated with youth. Arthur, songwriter, and Maggie, songster, fell in love in the early 1960s, when Arthur was a Cambridge student, incensed by university regulations prohibiting him from bringing girls into his room. The description of their love establishes their innocence: "The first day they met he drove her to the north of Scotland. The northern sky was wide and open so that strange Hebridean light came through white blinds on to their bed in a perfect square. A perfect white square in a dark hotel room. And they felt that first night they were almost not in the world at all" (63). Now, six or seven years later, the relationship is in shambles, and Maggie spends her time drinking and yelling her songs, some of which are still Arthur's. In the narra­ tive present of the play Maggie and Arthur adopt two incompatible attitudes toward their situation. Arthur, in longing and nostalgia, wants to believe there is still positive energy in the old program: "I believe the acid dream is over, it said in the Daily Express. But you and I, Maggie. . . we still want to say something. Yes?" (51). Arthur still has talk about "drawing a new man." But Maggie, rejecting the


After Brecht

nostalgia, prefers to deny all possibility: "You still want it to mean something, don't you? You can't get over that, can you? It's all gotta mean something. . . that's childish, Arthur. It don't mean anything" (52). Both Arthur and Maggie have hardened into caricatures of these positions: Maggie's destructive and self-destructive performances and Arthur's mopey whining leave them both in stalemate, while the world spins on, oblivious. The machine of rock music is a debased capitalist venture in which the only questions put are, "Where is the money and where are the girls?" The dramatic action of the play represents the collapse of the connection between any positive en­ ergy in rock music and 1960s society. In the first set the Cambridge undergraduates greet the haphazard music with indifference. The second set does not take place because Maggie disrupts it. The third set does not take place because there is literally no audience for it. And at the end the concert space itself is destroyed, and the band disperses. The contradictions between the theoretical horizon of popular music and its actuality are graphically portrayed in the life of the band (drugs and pastime games such as the Pope's Balls, a game whose object is to name "the most boring and useless bit of information you can think of") and in the reality of the business of popular music, in which Saraffian, Maggie's manager, steals bits and pieces of silver from the university as a hedge against not getting paid. From the catalog of his petty corruptions he names the real game: "Getting your hands on it. I mean actually getting your hands on the cash. That is the only skill. Really. The only skill in music" (74).34 The songs in Teeth 'n' Smiles serve both epic and dramatic pur­ poses. The first two songs fit into the stage time of the first set; they drop in place when, within the narrative, the band is ready to play and the scene is ready to end. Of the other songs, however, only the third set song contributes directly to moving the action. The main work of the music in Teeth 'n' Smiles is commentary. The songs dem­ onstrate Maggie's position ("If you don't scream honey / How do they know you're there"), or they comment on the historical context ("The ship is sinking /But the music remains the same"). The most exemplary use of music is the unmotivated song that follows scene 5. Maggie has been fired and the band busted, and it becomes clear

David Hare


that Saraffian and the band will let Maggie go to jail, since Peyote's drugs have been found in her bag. Everyone, including Arthur and Laura but not including Maggie and Saraffian, sing "Bastards": Don't let the bastards come near you They just want to prove you're sane To eat up your magic and change you So I'll help keep the bastards away The "bastards" are as easily the Cambridge establishment as the music business crooks. What will keep the bastards away is to resist capitulation to bourgeois "sanity" or perhaps to maintain an alienated identity at any price, but who the bastards are is a complicated ques­ tion: if your "enemies" don't get you, then your "friends" will. Every­ one in the play is trying to find a way to avoid the bastard—whether with drugs, sex, and liquor, cynicism, living in the past, or self­ serving greed. The society does not support alliances; at the end the "groups" fall apart and disperse, the Cambridge undergraduates as well as the band. Nothing that happens that night at Cambridge is a political act. There cannot be one, because there are no shared values and no working coalitions. Even Maggie's fire, burning down the tent, is not a political act; it is a private one. She is, as she says, "just making sure"—sure that she is going to jail, that she is responsible for her own fate, that she still knows how to cock a snook, perhaps all that. The Cambridge undergraduates don't notice; the band loves it, but not for any political reasons (for Wilson it's a spectacle: "I've 'eard there's a psychology tutor on fire, I'd really like to see it you know").35 Saraffian holds forth in a long monologue about the night of the bombing at the Café de Paris in 1941, concluding with a com­ parison between class warfare and Maggie's gesture. But Maggie won't tolerate it: "Bollocks. I just wanted to go to jail. . . . What a load of shit. You're full of shit, Saraffian. What a crucial insight, what a great moment in the Café de Paris. And what did you do the next thirty years? . . . This man has believed that same thing for thirty years. And it does not show. Is that going to happen to us? Fucking hell, somebody's got to keep on the move" (84). So Maggie's only answer to lost idealism is to "keep on the


After Brecht

move." It isn't worth much, but it's better than Saraffian's self-decep­ tive hypocrisy. It is arguable whether Maggie does anything other than make gestures of dissent, which disappear in the larger wash of time. With Arthur, too, the fear of a pointless future is intense: "I can see us all. Rolling down the highway into middle age. Compla­ cency. Prurience. Sadism. Despair" (88). Hare asks for both sympa­ thy and criticism for this dilemma. It is a 1969 dilemma, which to date we have not solved collectively. Plenty As a young girl working in the Resistance in France, Susan Traherne experienced intense fear and passion and the privilege of feeling that the enterprise in which she was involved was unquestionably right and important. Even if the French did not always appreciate the help of the English, even if she was at times completely incompetent and terrified, there was the consolation of confidence in the value of the work undertaken, and eventually there was victory. Plenty is the story of Susan's life in England after the war and her inability to reconcile herself to a postwar experience that lacks the purpose and heroics of her youth. Doing work she despises (advertising), failing to establish a workable independence or personal satisfaction, she overreacts to circumstances, acting out a rage that has no adequate object and no positive point. Her eventual economic prosperity con­ trasts with her personal moral bankruptcy and that of England, the trope for which is the Suez crisis, that "fraud cooked up by the British as an excuse for seizing the canal."36 Susan, Brock, Alice, and Lazar are all representatives of middle-class society after the war who did not make good on the promise of "plenty." The play unfolds in twelve discrete scenes taking place between 1943 and 1962. Each scene contains a clear moment of crisis involving Susan in a decision or a course of action. The scenes are capable of standing alone and often have a contradictory relationship to the scene following. This dialectical design is deliberate on Hare's part, who assures those planning to stage Plenty that the "policy of pulling the audience one way and then another will work as long as the director has thought out exactly what the action is in each scene, and tried to present it as clearly as possible" (87). This strategy involves the audience in reflecting on their own values and feelings and is

David Hare


Brechtian in that it historicizes the incidents of the narrative and requires the character's behavior to be examined as something that could have been otherwise. Hare's language recalls Brecht's "knotted scenes."37 The first two and last two scenes bracket the entire play, juxta­ posing the narrative present and the past. In the first scene (1962) Susan leaves her husband Brock and her home with a mixture of resolve and detachment. The play begins, like Pinter's Betrayal, with the end point. The second scene takes place in France (1943), where Susan is waiting for a supply drop in an open field. She is trying to be competent, tough, professional, but when the operation is compli­ cated, first by the unexpected appearance of a parachutist and then by an argument with a Frenchman over the supply package, she falls apart, breaking the very rules she has insisted on, such as not ex­ changing any personal information. She is, then, just a frightened girl trying to do a difficult job. Her English compatriot, having dropped out of the sky, helps her, comforts her, then they part. This scene is emblematic of the innocence and intensity of her war experi­ ence, and Lazar becomes her totem: "Not a day goes by without my wondering where he is" (37). The penultimate scene places her again with the man, Codename Lazar, in a shabby hotel room in 1962; it is where the present-time narrative finishes. This second meeting, this second time, is tawdry, empty. The opening image is of the two of them in coats with their backs to each other on the bed. Susan does not want to talk. Lazar needs to talk this time, but she can't listen. "I don't feel I've done well. I gave in. Always. All along the line. Suburb. Wife. Hell. I work in a corporate bureaucracy as well. . . . I hate, I hate this life that we lead" (83). Susan, however, begins to giggle as the marijuana ciga­ rette she smokes kicks in. Lazar bends to kiss her, but she falls back on the bed. The journey to recover the essence of the past ends in spoilage: the dream is debased, ruined. The scene changes, and sud­ denly green fields flood the stage. It is 1944, the liberation, and Susan, at nineteen, "looks radiantly well." She talks to a French farmer about the future: "It may b e . . . that things will quickly change. We have grown up. We will improve our world." He invites her home for some soup. The last lines of the play are hers: "There will be days and days and days like this" (86). The play examines to what extent Susan is a victim and a culprit


After Brecht

of the failure of the promise of plenty. That she is both is an essential insight, for it affords an opporunity to see how personal agency inter­ acts with sociopolitical determinants to produce "situation." The vari­ ous jobs that Susan does after the war, first in shipping, then exports, then advertising, offer no sense of purpose: "To produce what my masters call good copy, it is simply a question of pitching my intelli­ gence low enough. Shutting my eyes and imagining what it's like to be very, very stupid. This is all the future holds for any of us. We will spend the next twenty years of our lives pretending to be thick" (44). Susan's way of reacting to this situation, however, is sometimes to lie, sometimes to be deliberately cruel to others, sometimes to allow herself to make a scene or turn destructive (the parallels to Maggie's behavior are clear). This is considered to be madness; she is occasionally hospitalized. Lest she be seen completely as a victim of her situation and the Foreign Office's attitude toward women ("Some of the senior men, their wives are absolutely barking" [52]), Hare represents Susan as retaining the ability to choose the mode of her response. She tells Lazar: "I've not always been well. I have a weakness. I like to lose control. I've been letting it happen, well, a number of times" (82). The language suggests precisely the relation­ ship between the damage caused by the concrete circumstances of her life and the decision to respond by losing control. Here personal agency takes up a sociocultural position, that of the diplomat's mad wife. It is both an ideologically constructed position and yet not an inevitable one. The audience must be unable to make up its mind about Susan in order to keep this double truth in view. Most of Susan's particular gestures are futile. Even the destruc­ tion of the dinner party in scene 7 serves mainly to expose and ex­ plode a series of unpleasant ironies. The racism floats—the Burmese secretary, referred to by Darwin as "that appalling wog," refers to the Egyptians as "Gyps" while Mme Wong refers to Ingmar Bergman as Norwiegan, which of course Darwin must "correct." Darwin, like Susan, is very upset over Suez, but he is upset only because he was not informed of the decision ahead of time: "The government lied to me" (me is the operative word). In the end Darwin takes the brunt of Susan's attack, which is also somewhat ironic since, in the next scene, returning home from a posting in Iran for his funeral, she describes him in terms that would also suit her: "He spoke his mind over Suez. In public. He didn't hide his disgust. A lot of people never

David Hare


forgave him for that" (61-62). Similarly, shooting at Mick, the work­ ing-class man she asked to father a child, seems completely heartless, like misplaced frustration at the failure of their efforts. In so doing, Susan behaves like a decadent member of her privileged class. "You people are cruel," says Mick, "You are cruel and dangerous" (48). Of course, the attempt to strike out on her own, have a child by herself, negotiate a straightforward agreement with Mick about it— these things seemed quite idealistic and even brave in the preceding scene. Susan does make some attempts to live differently in ways she could respect; her response to failure, however, is often to give in (too quickly) and to act out her anger destructively.38 To what extent is she a spoiled member of her class, enacting typical bourgeois rebellion with no social consequences? As she writes out a check for Dorcas's abortion, she says, "We're rotten with cash" (65). And Hare certainly represents the rich diplomat's life she lives as comfortable and politically deadening. Describing Iran, Brock notes that they have been living a quiet life with "disgustingly cheap" Persian labor and almost no contact with the reality of the country: "The people are fine. In so far as one's seen them you know. It's only occasionally that you manage to get out. But the trips are startling, no doubt about that" (65). While Brock knows enough to say also that the poverty of the people makes England look "just a trifle deca­ dent," the gap that separates English diplomatic life from the regions to which it is assigned looms large. Those in charge of policy, in the case of Suez, in the case of Iran, lived out the old patterns of colonial rule. Nothing positive happened; no substantive promise was ful­ filled. If I am dwelling on the negative aspects of Susan's complicity with the ruling class, it is because the sympathetic aspects of her dissent seem very strong in the text.39 Her energy, her clear-sighted analysis of the hyprocisy and unproductiveness of her generation, her genuine longing to recover the experience of her youth—these attributes represent an almost-heroine. The gradual change and dete­ rioration of her position and personality is shocking because it is not inevitable.40 Like Maggie, Susan is, on the one hand, compelling and sympathetic and, on the other, responsible for the failures of her class and culture. Brecht's Galileo and Mother Courage both offer similarly ambivalent, similarly interrogatory treatments of individuals' behav­ ior and responsibilities.

After Brecht


The shape of the play, the twelve episodes without a definitive scene—no scène a faire—leaves Susan's life still open to change and preserves the contradictions of the text, unanswered except in his­ torical terms, wherein the play gives an account of the failure of British public and private life (of the dominant classes) in the first two decades after the war. Rather than portraying Susan's act of leaving her husband and home as a brave and appropriate deed that morally resolves the narrative, it is represented as just another attempt to grapple with her circumstances—if anything, less satisfactory in its anomie and pointlessness than that of her friend Alice, who has turned from sexual experimentation to sexual charity (running a home for unwed mothers), or even than her husband's, Brock's, choice to finally leave the diplomatic service. The question of what else could be done is not answered, although, as in Teeth 'n' Smiles, what is salient by its absence is any sense of community, of shared values leading to common effort, of anything remotely resembling a movement. This play is still the best combination of Brechtian drama­ turgy and psychological exploration, public and private, in Hare's current canon.41 A Map of the World Of all Bertolt Brecht's plays The Caucasian Chalk Circle draws the most attention to its status as a play and to its function: it is an imaginative parable that demonstrates a particular point of view for a specific ideological use. As such, it foregrounds the mode of production of the theatrical apparatus, drawing attention to who controls it (in this case the party). The play is Utopian, in that it projects a wished-for state of justice and equality, imagined but not realized within the scope of what we might have called really-existing socialism. A Map of the World similarly foregrounds its mode of production, but it does not construct a Utopia, except perhaps in its meaning as no-thing, as absent, as only a horizon of possibility. A telling epigram appears at the beginning of the printed script of the play: A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. —Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man under Socialism"

David Hare


In this play David Hare writes about a group of characters with certain personal commitments and styles who meet in an interna­ tional situation—the UNESCO conference on poverty—and the way these people change as a result of their mutual encounter. The focus is on the relationship between personal action and choice and the political context and consequences. It is a political play but not in the conventional sense; it is not per se about the conference on poverty or the political positions of the characters at it. Rather, it is about the relationship between personal experience and ideological commit­ ments to behaviors, or so-called principles, thus it is closely related to the other two plays under discussion in this section. Further, A Map of the World is a metadrama in a very complex sense. Hare layers the narrative, dispersing its meaning through vari­ ous genres. A particular (fictional) event is represented as a movie-inthe-making, a novel written by one of the people who was part of the original event, and the stage representation of the attempt to make the movie. Thus, the play is a great deal about its own structure and the structure of all narrative art. The play examines the ways in which various representations produce meaning, in terms of the ideology of the form (film being the most obvious) but also in terms of the inescapable judgments contained within the representations them­ selves. The gist of the basic story is that Stephen, a young journalist covering the UNESCO conference for his left-wing magazine, be­ comes involved in an argument between a group of people from various Marxist Third World countries (Mozambique, Senegal, So­ malia) and Victor Mehta, a famous novelist (reminiscent of real-life V. S. Naipaul)42 who is to address the conference and whose views they find offensive. An American actress (Peggy), in India on location and courted by both men, proposes that they debate their differing points of view in public with an American journalist (Elaine) as judge, the winner to get the "prize" of sleeping with her. At the close of the debate Stephen decides to leave the conference and abandon the contest. He is killed in a train accident. Mehta also leaves the confer­ ence without speaking, preferring to go to the scene of the accident. The conference concludes; the Third World countries obtain a loan from the West. The movie, novel, and play present at least three versions of this story, each with a different emphasis and viewpoint. The Hollywood


After Brecht

A Map of the World, written and directed by David Hare. National Theatre, January 1983. Photograph by Nobby Clark, courtesy of David Hare.

movie is a romance: the Peggy actress (Madeleine) pronounces on the inevitable: "Sex and death are really the standout features, rather than the arguments in the book, some of which we are filming . . . all of which, I guess, we think, will be cut" (79). The film stresses the rivalry between the two men for Peggy and the tragedy of the un­ timely train accident. When completed the politics will disappear along with the arguments, but the film will apparently feature a scene of the American reporter, a black woman, bathing topless. The first time the audience realizes it is watching a movie set, Hare heightens the language to parody melodrama and brings in music underneath to clarify this shaping of the cinematic apparatus. The dialogue, which has been quite plausible up until now (i.e., for a stage play), suddenly turns purple. Elaine: Do it. Act. Seize her. Never nurse unrequited desire. (25)

David Hare


Hare later makes up for this rude jolt when he allows Mehta to complain about the film script: "The dialogue. When they open their mouths, dead frogs fall out" (74). This distanciation from the lure of the narrative succeeds in problematizing not only the movie-as-genre but also the play. The characteristics of stage dialogue are now questioned, along with the structure and emphasis of the stage representation. The question of what will get cut and what will survive pursues the spectator, since the clarity of the first revelation of the play-as-movie is the only truly clear distinction between various versions. Is, for example, scene 3 in which the bargain to have a contest between Mehta and Stephen wTith Peggy as prize, a scene from the movie, or is it a scene from the stage fiction, portraying Peggy's memory via her version of the situ­ ation? Peggy's direct address to the audience is surely a stage, rather than a cinematic, convention: "Nothing makes sense, none of it, un­ less you understand this one basic fact. How do I put it? That I was so young" (30-31). On the other hand, the movie crew sets up the scene, bridging and blurring the film-stage distinction. In any case it will probably not be cut in the editing room because it has to do with sex and is the crucial fulcrum of the ensuing action. But what about the long sequence in that scene in which M'Bengue lays out his indictment of Mehta and of the way the West treats Third World nations in its representations and its policies? Once the ques­ tion has been asked about what bits will and should be left in and what should and will be left out, Hare has set in motion Brecht's famous Not/But—that is, spectators ask what is not being repre­ sented that might be: What is, or might theoretically be, missing? Judy Oliva has pointed out the nature of the link between the visual technique and the thematic concerns of the play: "The physical spec­ tacle corresponds to the cerebral issues of the play. Hare chooses to demonstrate physically how illusion and reality can become blurred and distorted, as they do in any ideology—political, social, or moral."43 The characters are subject to Hare's foregrounding of their con­ struction as well. The fictive novel treats the questions of their moti­ vations most directly, because the novelist (Mehta) is a bourgeois moralist, and that is what bourgeois novels and novelists do best: they analyze their characters' motivations. Mehta, describing the film


After Brecht

script, observes, "A moral story has been reduced to the status of a romance" (75). His objections to the film script are concerned with the personal moments of existential moral choice: "Each of the char­ acters is forced to examine the values of his or her life. . . . The novel­ ist is accused of dalliance and asked to put a value on what he has seen as a passing affair. The actress questions her easy promiscuity and is made to realize adulthood will involve choice. And the journal­ ist assumes the confidence of his own beliefs" (75). According to Mehta's view of it, the conference on poverty is inconsequential; the central features of the story are purely personal. While Hare is also interested in personal decisions, through the stage play he establishes another level as well: the relationship be­ tween personal experience and public positions, and between public positions and political reality. A good deal of the time people hold or maintain positions with­ out examining them; they are on automatic pilot. Thus, Stephen regularly spouts off his prearranged principles. The impulse behind the view is no longer fresh; the view is simply habitual, the conven­ tional left-wing claim to detest poverty and the decadence of the West. Mehta, for his part, is full of similarly stale rhetoric, most of which serves to point out various failures in revolutionary politics and to express disdain for all but "old civilizations" and cultures. As Mehta is a veritable poseur, nothing new is possible, in his estima­ tion—so he substitutes humor and wit for novelty. Above all, this sets him apart from things, confirming his status as an outsider and turning it to advantage. Stephen and Mehta are both idealists of a sort (for cynicism is the flip side of idealism) who have slipped into self-righteousness. Their arguments clarify their similarities as well as their differences.44 The actors who are making the movie illustrate the habit of pub­ lic posture in their own interrelationships. The Elaine actress is preju­ diced against gays. She unthinkingly outrages the Martinson actor in an argument about Arabs and Israelis when she suggests Zionism as a seven-letter word meaning "the plague of the earth." He insists on an argument; he is a man with "positions"—he also argues that "we are all bisexual." The gay actor playing Stephen is adept at mak­ ing peace; it is his own habitual posture, so he smooths things over. In Hare's play, moreover, not only do human beings calcify into unexamined positions; institutions do too. Just as the cinematic appa­

David Hare


ratus has its conventions, so too do the press and the United Nations itself. M'Bengue's speech in scene 3 indicts representations of Africa in the Western "organs of publicity" as self-serving and culturally one-sided: "All your terms are political, and your politics is the crude fight between your two great blocs.. . . These are the only questions you ever ask yourselves. As if the whole world could be seen in those terms. In your terms. In the white man's terms and through the white man's media" (40). Since major characters in the play are journalists (Elaine works for CBS and Stephen for a small English magazine), the question of the way the narrative events of the play would be por­ trayed in the media is directly implicated. As for the United Nations, M'Bengue sees that the nations that control the money will give aid only with the price tag of controlling ideology. Mehta knows the United Nations is a self-serving bureau­ cracy. Martinson doesn't care what gets said in official speeches as long as the conference agenda move forward, and Stephen believes that, in spite of all the endless posturing and parliamentary argumen­ tation, "at the centre of the verbiage, often only by hazard but never­ theless at times and unpredictably, crises are averted, aid is directed" (71). The play illustrates these truths when, by hazard, the train accident precludes Mehta's speech. The conference concludes in the manner of M'Bengue's predicted outcome: the loan is given, but the conditions serve Western ideology and interests.45 What, then, does it take to effect real change, personally and politically? Characteristically, David Hare does not provide an actual answer to this queston. As audience, we judge whether the confer­ ence is a success or a shambles—both judgments are plausible—and also whether the personal squabble between Stephen and Victor made or could have made any difference to its outcome.46 And then there is a question of the contribution of a novel or a play based on this story—merely fulfilling the conventions of the genres in ques­ tion. Or is there a possibility for the production of new, although by no means neutral, meanings? At the close of the play Mehta speaks lines that may serve as a coda for all three plays under discussion: "This feeling, finally, that we may change things—this is the centre of everything we are. Lose that.. . lose that, lose everything" (82). As a gloss on Marx (the important thing is to change it [the world]), often repeated by Brecht, Hare provides a dialectical provocation to complacency. Implicated by the metatheatrical structure of the play

After Brecht

i 38

in the very process of narrativity, spectators engage more facets than the Brechtian triangle, as self/role, actor/character, fiction/metafiction encircle the viewer, demanding a productive sorting out.

David Hare in Present Time In 1988 the National Theatre (NT) mounted a revival of Fanshen, which, as part of the NT education, toured to various regional and school venues before opening in London at the Cottesloe Theatre. The production affords an example of the shifting patterns of the production of meaning that inevitably accompany theatrical repre­ sentation. While, for some, the serious consideration of a revolution­ ary movement still seemed like leftist preaching,47 for others, the balance of the play had shifted in light of history. Ann McFerran, writing in Time Out, illustrates this shift in reception: "Having ob­ served the excess of Hatton et al., the scenes which depict the inher­ ent tyranny of totalitarian leftism, in which opportunists and left extremists abused the system, seem very familiar."48 According to David Hare, the production came about because of an interest in seeing how the ideas of the play applied in the 1980s, in light of the changes affecting China after the Cultural Revolution and England under Thatcherism. China's new policies of privatiza­ tion of resources and relaxation of controls have been heralded in the West, especially in the press, as proof of the failure of the revolution­ ary ideals of collectivization and as a validation of Western principles that favor a mixed economy. Hinton, however, has written about the underlying problems of sacrificing social organization to production quotas: The question here is not simply one of the equalisation of earn­ ings—I will prosper first and you will catch up later. It involves the polarisation of a certain proportion of the village population into classes with diametrically opposed status vis-à-vis the means of production. There are those who have nailed down enough use rights to extract surplus value from the labour force needed to exploit them, and there are those who have missed out in contracting for use rights and have to work for others for wages.49

David Hare


Because of the conservative climate of Thatcherism in the 1980s and the passing of the revolutionary, intellectual, and artistic inter­ ests of the late 1960s, the balance of the play had shifted in reception from an emphasis on the necessity for social justice to the necessity for increased production. Hare says that, to many, the people of Long Bow now appear "to be wasting their time discussing when production is the first concern." Another factor affecting reception is the age of the audience. "Older audiences who have seriously consid­ ered and rejected communism see it as an exploration of its assets and liabilities while young audiences have never even thought about communism seriously in the first place."50 Thus, what audiences brought to the play in 1988 produced a less sympathetic response to the Chinese experiment than was possible in 1978. The production itself contributed to this shift in meaning. David Hare was not involved in the production until just before the London opening. He came to rehearsal for one day at the request of the actors, who had thrown out their director, Les Waters. At issue were both the politics of the play and the politics of rehearsal. While Gaskill and Stafford-Clark had produced Fanshen in a democratic manner, related to the subject matter of the play, Waters had "ap­ proached the play as a set text, and rehearsed it with the notion of being 'dramatically effective.'" As the cast played the text on tour, especially to young audiences of high school students, they contin­ ued to search for a satisfactory way to portray the politics of the piece. They told Hare that they "were good at playing doubt but not joy." He thought their self-analysis was correct and that "the turbo-charge of the early 40s, of the joy of change, was needed in the early scenes."51 It seems that the actors, too, had been affected by history insofar as the experiential root of the possibility of revolutionary struggle is missing in contemporary life. David McDonald has written a very different account of the play in connection with a 1987 produc­ tion at the University of California, Irvine. History once again over­ took the text, this time at Tiananmen Square.52 Looking back at his work, Hare was most pleased that the script had held up, that it was "robust, indestructible," with a classical formal structure that some of his other work from the period lacked ("it seemed formally a bit of a mess").53 He thinks that for a minority of people the play still has some importance politically, recalling a South African from Cape Town who told him, "this was a most


After Brecht

important and riveting theatre experience," but he is also clear that he "can't assume responsibility for education when the whole spirit of the time is not to look and think at all politically": "At least in this situation, the play requires people to consider rival claims of social justice and production. We don't ask those questions usually, or take social justice at all seriously."54 I have moved from a consideration of Hare's personal plays back again to his more public and overtly political text, Fanshen, in order to illustrate the extension of personal experience into a public sphere of sociopolitical life. Richard Cave, who considers Hare a consum­ mate political writer, traces the effect of Fanshen on Hare's subse­ quent writing, privileging chronological over thematic development. Seen from this vantage, Cave sees Fanshen as a key to Hare's technical virtuosity: In retrospect, one begins to appreciate how crucial Hare's in­ volvement in Fanshen has proved in helping him to find an indi­ vidual style and technique... . Fanshen not only evoked a process of history, a turning-over and rebuilding of a community, it also showed how for each individual in that community a growth in consciousness, the creation of a self, had to accompany the larger social movement. Playing with an array of identities in order to shape acceptable private and social dimensions for the self has become the dominant preoccupation of Hare's more recent plays.55 Cave's perceptions help explain why important traces of epic structure and technique were still apparent in Hare's work: the aus­ tere control of form in Fanshen was still being identified as Brechtian by critics of the 1988 production.56 The style that emerged from David Hare's extensive work was far from derivative Brecht; it was uniquely Hare's own. Seeing the Brechtian elements in Hare's plays, however, helps illuminate their structure, style, and dominant concerns—and, following Richard Cave, provides one view of the unity underlying the rich diversity of David Hare's writing. It is my own view, however, that something has changed in Hare's writing since 1988. Perhaps it would be truer to say that some­ thing has modulated or segued in such a way that I now think that

David Hare


David Hare has moved far enough away from Brecht that discussion of his recent work within the framework of this book is not fruitful. I would like to try to explain why I think this is the case. To begin, contrast two Hare quotations, from 1978 and 1990, respectively: For five years I have been writing history plays. I try to show the English their history. I write tribal pieces, trying to show how people behaved on this island, off this continental shelf, in this century. How this Empire vanished, how these ideals died . . . if you begin to describe the undulations of history, if you write plays that cover passages of time, then you begin to find a sense of movement, of social change.57 I found myself wanting to express the way English morals had changed so decisively during the eighties. I wanted to concen­ trate not on all the economic damage Thatcherism had done to the poor and the weak in Britain, but instead to show the subtle changes in the emotional lives of some of those who had appar­ ently prospered under her government.. .. When I finished the play [The Secret Rapture], I believed it to be the most personal and private I had written.58 When I first began to detect a "subtle change" in Hare's work, I thought it might have to do with his emergence as a filmmaker, probably because I judged the film version of Plenty to have soft­ ened the stage play's political analysis and to have psychologized Susan Traherne by way of Meryl Streep's powerful but too "Ameri­ can" performance. Wetherby, however, which is for me one of Hare's most powerful epic works, clearly proves my thesis wrong, since it was made in 1985. It belongs with the cluster of works, in­ cluding Plenty and several films for television (Licking Hitler [1978], Dreams of Leaving [1980], and Saigon: Year of the Cat), which rep­ resent the "undulations of history" over a sweep of time as well as the existential choices of discrete individuals living through those changes. In Paris by Night (1988) and The Secret Rapture (1988),59 the focus on individual lives, feelings, and emotions—and, of course, decisions too—shifts the emphases in these works away from an analysis of the interaction of the personal and the historical, which


After Brecht

has made Hare's writing "Brechtian." The plays are by no means ahistorical, nor are they apolitical. They are, however, concerned more narrowly with individuals' interior lives. Two of three plays in a trilogy on English institutions have ap­ peared during 1990 and 1991. Racing Demons and Murmuring Judges seem in many ways to return to the historical focus of earlier work. Yet, even in these instances, I would argue that the plays are "about" the personal dilemmas of good people in bad situations during Thatcherite times. Hare has said that in The Secret Rapture he "was interested to show what choices good people might have to make in order to survive or prosper among some of the other typical charac­ ters of the age."60 This project continues in Racing Demons, in which the struggles of English priests to do good within a morally and politically corrupt institution (the Church of England) create sympa­ thy and understanding for their quest. For its part, Murmuring Judges takes on the courts and the justice system and surely historicizes British society under Thatcher. Still, these plays seem to have come after the break signaled by Hare's comments concerning Secret Rap­ ture. The characters are fixed, less ambiguous, less dialectical; the action is less about the interplay of social determinants with personal agency than about the personal angst of experiencing the system.61 When I saw Racing Demons at the National Theatre in January 1991 I was tremendously moved by the performances of Oliver Ford Davies and Michael Bryant, and I thought, "Finally, a playwright who understands the situation of ordinary ministers (priests) instead of supplying the usual terrible caricatures." Thus, in saying that David Hare's work is changing, I do not necessarily mean to imply rejection of that change. These plays and films (including Strapless [1989]) seem to mark a new departure in what will, I hope, be a long and many-faceted career. Contemporary history itself, the exigencies of living through these times, have no doubt contributed to the trans­ formation. Hare's own creative interests as well as his moral and political commitments have also, apparently, changed.62

Chapter 5

Trevor Griffiths: Counterpoint to a Brechtian Aesthetic

Trevor Griffiths connects to the circuitry linking many of the other playwrights in this book. His early plays Occupations (1970), Apricots (1971), and Thermidor (1971) toured with 7:84 in John McGrath's initial seasons. David Hare directed the touring production of The Party (1973). Griffiths was one of the group of authors, also including Hare and Brenton, who cowrote Lay-By (1971), as part of Portable Theatre. He read English literature in college, like the others. He works in television and film, rather more than do the others. And, like the others, his plays and aesthetics deserve examination with reference to Brecht. Griffiths was not aware of Brecht, or of very much about theater at all, until well after he had left the university. Growing up in Man­ chester, the son of a chemical worker, Griffiths didn't go to the the­ ater. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he began to be aware of plays largely through television. He was also reading about the new plays in London through the pages of the Observer (Kenneth Tynan again). He did see John Dexter's production of Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen when in London for the Aldermaston march: "I thought [it] amazing. Just amazing. It was a play about work, it was a play about people I knew."1 Mainly, however, it was through television that Griffiths began to see the possibilities of drama. "I was excited by TV because what was being framed was working people's lives. . . everything that I had debated and lived was now the stuff of plays.. . . Porterism transcended the theatre, was made real by television."2 Griffiths had no early relationship to Brecht at all. His first re­ membered encounter with Brecht was through Tynan's account of Coriolanus in the Observer. He did see a lot of European films during the early 1960s, including those by Jean-Luc Goddard and Michel­ angelo Antonioni, which he thinks "unconsciously transmitted certain



After Brecht

notions of alienation without ever attributing them/' and, he says, "I wasn't aware that anyone was attributing them to Brecht."3 His own plays were already being produced before he encountered Brecht "in an elaborated way": "I think it was through criticism of my early plays for being insufficiently reflexive, too super-naturalistic." He remembers David Edgar and Snoo Wilson as being disdainful of his more conservative form. "It was then that I became aware of form as part of the problematic of being a writer. I wasn't totally unaware before, but I was more interested in terrains."4 At this point in the early 1970s Griffiths began to read Brecht's plays and also the theory, including "A Short Organum." He also read other Marxist theorists (Adorno, Benjamin, Lukács, Sartre) and played them off against one another. He tended to side with Lukács in the debates with Brecht ("I am Lukacsian in one sense or another") and felt that it was during this period that he worked out his relationship with Brecht: Brecht's whole aesthetic project turns for me on one argument— on the new nature of reality—that it is socially and politically impossible to describe and understand objective reality using realist modes. Realism is fundamentally underpinned by some idea of psychologism and individualism. I see the force in that. Somewhere in this century, the world became impossible to ac­ count for in terms of people's lives. It doesn't follow that the world can be understood any more clearly using the Brechtian paradigms.5 Griffiths's own defense of realism has three aspects. First, Grif­ fiths refuses the Brechtian notion that the involvement of empathy and feeling for the fictional lives of characters is destructive to intel­ lectual and analytical response. Second, following Lukács, Griffiths sees particular writers as able to capture the historical and social contradictions and transformations of their times, whether con­ sciously or not. He cites D. H. Lawrence's first 150 pages of Sons and Lovers: "It's about so many things Lawrence doesn't know it's about, because of the extraordinary breadth of the terrain that runs through it, human experience, concrete, determined, historical. The best writ­ ers will apprehend the fault lines, the confluences of change and transformation without knowing it; it will be part of their project, but they won't be scientists in the way in which Brecht wanted them to

Trevor Griffiths


work."6 Third, the issues of realism are not clear-cut because realism is itself not a pure form. Brecht polarized against the conventions of realism as if there were two clear and distinct styles, mutually exclu­ sive.7 Griffiths sees both the nature of the convention and the inter­ vention of history as changing the terms of the debate: There isn't a pure or uncontaminated form—realism is a conven­ tion. I don't think Brecht was in a position to allow modified, inflected, reconstructed realism as a possibility; he always had to challenge it. But there's been a lot of practice since then, that's the point. It is actually impossible to go back to Ibsen, Chekhov, or Strindberg without coming through Brecht. Brecht mediates the first progressive wave of naturalism/realism in very signifi­ cant ways and inflects it, even if you're not aware of Brecht as a system.8 This post-Brechtian, post-classical realist moment is the one in which Griffiths writes. Although sharply disagreeing with Brecht's aesthetics and remaining committed to the realist tradition, Griffiths wishes to retain for his own project the critical, sociopolitical analytic of Brecht's. He describes his own plays as operating within realism but also enabling distance to occur—"in fact insisting upon distance or alienation at particular moments for particular purposes." Nor does his work allow people to perceive theatrical representation as unmediated life. In discussing his work for television, especially the multipart series on Bill Brand, Griffiths stresses that to bring material to television that is social, political, and revolutionary through the concreteness of everyday lives is very important and also very diffi­ cult: "If I sought to break people's way of seeing, then I couldn't have brought the other stuff along—it was very heavy cargo."9 Looking at Griffiths's work for the theater, certain aspects associ­ ated with Brecht's dramaturgy never appear. The self-reflexive theatricality of calling attention to the Theater Event is missing, al­ though certain speeches may point to themselves as rhetorical con­ structs (The Party), or the audience may find itself positioned as a particular audience of factory workers (Occupations), or the play may operate on a metalevel of performance (Comedians [1975]). Still, the basic representation of the subject matter of the plays is continuous. Scenes in Griffiths's plays are developmental and interlocking rather


After Brecht

than discontinuous and self-contained. Even so, however, there are significant departures and exceptions such as the sudden transition from Kabak's hotel room to the Fiat factory in Occupations. Characters in Griffiths's plays are crafted to represent both positions or types and also full personal experiences. Griffiths has said that he thinks dialectically, tends to create characters who embody different life choices, styles, points of view. Kabak and Gramsci in Occupations, Waters and Price in Comedians, and Platonov and Triletski in Piano are examples of these dialectical characterizations. They carry the politi­ cal and philosophical argument of the play but also provide a series of personal, psychological entailments. Settings in Griffiths could be described as selected realism—often a domestic interior but public spaces as well (the factory, the comedy club), and often in combina­ tion with contextualizing projections from history (1920 Italy or 1968 France). What emerges from Griffiths's work is a modified realism, modified in some cases by alienation devices that historicize the nar­ rative. His work is a kind of limit case for the question of influence and relationship to past traditions. While Griffiths might be closer to Chekhov, Ibsen, and Strindberg than to Brecht, he is also, as he recognizes, mediated by Brecht in some specific and important ways. While I have specifically refrained from directly comparing the work of the playwrights under discussion, it seems obvious that Tre­ vor Griffiths is closest to David Hare in his view of his own work and in his view of Brecht. In the chapter on Hare I have been much more insistent on the Brechtian legacy, even against Hare's protestations. Here I am accepting of Griffiths's self-placement in counterpoint to the Brechtian tradition. The structural fluidity of Griffiths's work (tightly connected, causal, illusionistic scenes) contrasted to the ex­ tensive use of juxtaposition, interruption, mood shifts, and other formal devices in Hare's work mark Griffiths's alignment with the shape and flow of classical realism. Then there is the matter of Hare's associations with William Gaskill on Fanshen, the ongoing collabora­ tion with Hayden Griffin, and his own emergent directorial style. Both Hare and Griffiths, however, create representations of character that straddle sociopolitical analysis and personal lived experience. David Hare seems, therefore, like an especially appropriate director for Griffiths's The Party, a play that resembles Plenty in that it exam­ ines the life of a contemporary intellectual against the backdrop of a particular historical possibility, requiring both sympathy and judg­

Trevor Griffiths


ment on the part of its audiences. Griffiths, however, has harderedged politics than Hare; at least he is more distinctly and con­ sciously committed to leftist politics. He situates himself with refer­ ence to Marxist writers such as Lukács, Raymond Williams, and the Frankfurt school. Lukács, whose writings Griffiths knows well enough to paraphrase extensively or even to quote in conversation, was committed to portraying the totality of social life through repre­ sentative types embedded in the continuous flow of history (continu­ ity instead of Brechtian discontinuity). Yet, as he himself acknowl­ edges, Brecht has inflected his work in visible ways. If Hare seems more theatrically connected to the Brechtian legacy, then Griffiths is more engaged in a dialogue about how best to stage the political concerns he shares with Brecht. Griffiths occupies a boundary posi­ tion in this study. He really is a counterpoint, in the sense that to understand his negotiations of politics and aesthetics requires famil­ iarity with both epic and realistic theory, history, and stage practice. Before turning to an examination of Griffiths's plays, another cumulative issue in this study deserves address. While many of the playwrights in this volume write for film and television, Griffiths is the most outspoken in his defense of the importance of the medium. In fact, he views his theater writing almost as a luxury and has said that he doesn't think of it as important.10 Television, on the other hand, directly reaches large numbers of people. Perhaps because of the salient effect television had on him as a young man, Griffiths sees a tremendous potential in television: "If twenty socialist playwrights had committed themselves to television in the seventies, overnight we might have really changed things."11 While he is less skeptical than John McGrath, for instance, about the ability to write politically effective material for that medium, he is alert to the dangers and liabilities of filmmaking that McGrath, Hare, and Brenton voice. Mike Poole and John Wyver have written an important book on Griffiths's work for television.12 Because of its mass audience, Griffiths has ar­ gued that realism is still the most effective mode for political writers like himself. Occupations In 1920 Italy had the possibility of a true workers' revolution, when the occupation of Fiat factories throughout Italy almost resulted in a


After Brecht

full-scale proletarian victory. The play Occupations is about the histori­ cal limits of a particular revolutionary moment and also "about" styles of leadership, in this case those of Antonio Gramsci, the leader of the Turin workers and one of the most important Marxist thinkers of this century, and of Kabak, the Soviet (Bulgarian) representative to the Comintern, which in 1920 was developing a policy of conces­ sions to some foreign capitalists. Kabak comes to Turin with a pro­ posal for a contract with Fiat, just at the time that workers' occupa­ tions come to a head. He meets with Gramsci, watches the situation develop, and, when it is clear that the revolution will not take place, goes ahead with the offer to Fiat. Meantime, his wife/lover, a count­ ess before the revolution, is dying of cancer in a hotel bed on stage. Her suffering and death form the backdrop for most of the play's eight scenes. Kabak, rather than Gramsci, is the central character. Together they portray the contradictions of revolutionary leadership. Kabak is disciplined, ruthless, completely committed, but also callous as a human being and in some ways deformed by his discipline. Gramsci is also totally committed, but to a flesh-and-blood humanity rather than an abstraction. As a result, he refuses to risk the lives and welfare of the Turin working class in leading an all-out bid for revolu­ tion without guarantees of the support of the Italian workers throughout the rest of Italy. The central confrontation in their thinking comes at the end of the first act. The General Confederation of Labor asks Turin to lead a general insurrection. From Kabak's point of view the revolutionary opportunity is opened and must be seized. It is a risk but one with enormous implications for the future. Gramsci still remembers the general strike the previous April, when the confederation and the party refused to extend the strike and left Turin without support. Kabak: It is a risk you must take. It's September now. Gramsci: We have risked too much already. I will not allow that class to be wiped out. I could not survive it. Kabak: No sentimentalisms, please. You must not confuse revo­ lutionary duty with bourgeois conscience. Gramsci: Nor shall I, comrade. Kabak: You cannot say you love your working class too much to

Trevor Griffiths


put them at risk, and then imagine you're saying something profoundly revolutionary. Gramsci: That isn't what I'm saying. I am saying that they are too important to the world revolutionary movement to squander on a dubious adventure that could well have been concocted precisely to produce their annihilation.13 Kabak tells Gramsci that he cannot love an army, which is what the workers are. "If it breaks down, you get another one. Love has nothing to do with it" (46). Gramsci then delivers one of the most important speeches in the play on the necessity for loving the work­ ers in their concrete particularity. He concludes: You would be wrong to see this. . . love. . . as the product of petit-bourgeois idealism. It is the correct, the only true dialectical relationship between leaders and led, vanguard and masses, that can ensure the political health of the new order the revolution seeks to create. Treat masses as expendable, as fodder, during the revolution, you will always treat them thus. I tell you this, Comrade Kabak, if you see masses that way, there can be no revolution worth the blood it spills. (46) Lest this debate seem like it is loaded on Gramsci's side, the consequences of his position were that a general insurrection did not take place and the revolutionary moment passed. Griffiths does not intend Gramsci's to be an easy doctrine. And Kabak is not portrayed as a completely mechanical and cynical brute. His practice is to view situations in an objective and utilitarian way. He knows that to dress and behave within the bourgeois social codes of those with whom he negotiates, Valletta from Fiat, for example, will make the negotia­ tions smoother, so he does. He wants Italy to have its revolution, but, when it is clear that it will not take place, he wastes no time cutting his Russian deal with the Italian bosses. He pays for this disciplined "objectivity" by an inability to love and an unwillingness to acknowledge the claims of personal relationships. He refuses to stay with the countess or to take her with him when she is dying because it is not practical and would interfere with his work. In an appalling scene he tries to separate his physical need for love from


After Brecht

his interpersonal situation by proposing to sleep with his wife's maid: "Look, she's going to die. Right? It doesn't matter what you do, she's going to die. Think what that means to you. Hunh? Just think of that. Go on." (38). Polya refuses because she loves her mistress, but the countess, who has heard the conversation, urges Polya to do what Kabak requests. When Polya has taken off her clothes, however, "her eyes cast down, her body slightly crouched," Kabak can't follow through and leaves. Kabak is thus a complex embodiment of his position: successful in his work objectives, effective in helping the Russian revolution get an economic foothold on survival, but becoming increasingly cut off from human connection and feeling. Gramsci, on the other hand, comes to see Kabak for the last time, exhausted and at least temporar­ ily defeated, on his way to Sardinia to see his sister, who is dying of malaria. Kabak tells Gramsci, "You still love them too much, com­ rade" (68).14 Griffiths, then, uses the two characters to tell a story about a particular historical moment in the history of Italian and Soviet social­ ism but also to engage in a serious theoretical examination of the relationship between leadership and revolution. The play is openended, in that the contradictions between the two ways of leading are left unresolved. It would be bourgeois humanism, with its em­ phasis on individuals and their suffering, to leap too easily to Gramsci's position, yet it would be doctrinaire ultra-leftism (individu­ alism is a bourgeois flaw, a failure of nerve) to dismiss Gramsci's critique of Leninist vanguard leadership. In view of Soviet history beyond this point this argument is strongly compelling. The thematic links to Brecht are of interest here. In The Measures Taken Brecht raises the specific problem of the contradictions between a humanitarian response to individual suffering and the discipline and objectivity of discerning the most effective long-term action. Both Mother Courage and Galileo raise issues about the requirements for effective resistance and their relationship to human limitation. In the "Scene of the Great Capitulation" Brecht explains through Courage the necessity for "a long anger"—that any radical change can only come about if people are committed to a long struggle with many setbacks. From this point of view Kabak is right in his determination to pick up and move on to the next historical possibility. Galileo comes closer to a real consideration of human needs and

Trevor Griffiths limits in relation to resistance, seen through Galileo's appetitive body. Brecht also raises the issues of the various means of resistance available and their timing and, in his many drafts, moved about considerably among the options and consequences involved in the alternatives. Both Brecht and Griffiths undertake these heavy ques­ tions, endemic to the Left, which must be faced by any leadership of a mass movement and by any individual who would move history. The staging of Occupations is epic in spite of the fact that, except for two speeches that Gramsci makes to the workers inside a Turin factory, with the audience becoming the workers, the play takes place inside Kabak's hotel room. The scenes in the factory come midway in each of the two acts, bringing the historical immediacy of the occupations to the foreground, displacing the personal narratives of the two men, especially Kabak's. These scenes are definitely a Brechtian alienating and historicizing device. Griffiths describes them as "insisting that the audience distance themselves from the lives of the first act and resituate themselves in relation to the historical event."15 They work in tandem with the close realism of the other scenes to provide the dialectical balance between history and the individual that is the hallmark of Griffiths's work. Similarly, the presence of the countess on the bed, occasionally crying out—during Kabak's various business scenes with the hotelier, Cavaliere D'Avanzo, Prefect Taddei, Chairman Valletta, and, of course, Gramsci—interrupt the his­ torical focus of the scenes with Kabak's personal narrative. (The countess is also an image of the part of Russia destroyed by the revolution: one necessity of a successful revolution is not to personal­ ize the suffering of your enemies.) This play seems like Griffiths's closest variant of the Brechtian legacy because both themes and tech­ nique work together to historicize the incidents and to politicize the individual dilemmas of the protagonists. Comedians, however, may surpass Occupations in bearing the fullest relationship to Brecht. The Party Between Occupations and Comedians Griffiths returned to some of the themes of Occupations in his examination of the issues of May 1968. The Party involves a double entendre in the title between the question of a revolutionary party and its possible leadership and a domestic party given by the protagonist at which these questions are posed.


After Brecht

While Gramsci and Kabak represented styles of committed leader­ ship, the possibility of meaningful leadership is now altogether in question, especially for Joe Shawcross, a successful up-from-working-class television producer. He represents the intellectual Left of that late 1960s era, who, in historical retrospect, did not find a means of leading a progressive political revolution or even movement. The play faces some of the contradictions of those times. Like Occupations, it examines the moment of historical possibility when suddenly real change seems possible. Like Occupations, it is unrelenting in its analy­ sis of the human cost of some forms of commitment. In the retrospec­ tive gaze of the 1990s it strikes me now as a succinct description of the reasons that the Left failed to find a program, a vision, that could finally transform society or, indeed, even prevent Thatcherism. The play opens with a prologue that is as much an alienating device as anything in Brecht. A Groucho Marx figure gives a bad stand-up routine patterned on music hall or club behavior, replete with sexist and racist jokes. He also offers a commentary of quota­ tions accompanying projections of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky that pertain to the play. The first characterizes the bourgeois epoch as "uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncer­ tainty and agitation."16 The second attacks revolutionary phrase mak­ ing, which is "the repetition of revolutionary slogans irrespective of objective circumstances at a given turn in events, in the given state of affairs obtaining at the time" (10). The third, after a rendition of Timon of Athens' soliloquy on money, characterizes money as the "alienated power of humanity" (11). The prologue ends with a series of projected slogans from Paris 1968 and footage of the student dem­ onstrations. Then a spot up on the Shawcross bedroom on what Griffiths describes as "a sort of abstracted fuck-ballet" represents Angie's ineffective attempt to arouse Joe. The lights come up, and the play begins. Against this highly theatricalized beginning the first scene is dead-on realism: established bedroom, props, realistic dialogue, and relationships. In the course of the short first scene several ties to the prologue's issues are established: the milieu of money and confusion, Joe's impotence and its probable diagnosis—" h e . . . can't bear the thought of himself a s . . . successful. . . in a society he longs to de­ stroy" (15). The rest of the play follows the course of the night and the next

Trevor Griffiths


morning. It is May 10, 1968, and the Paris insurrections are at their height. Throughout the play television news of the activity is some­ times broadcast on wall screens as well as on a prop TV. This treat­ ment of media is another central alienating device. The real revolu­ tionary struggle is juxtaposed to the ersatz one that will unfold onstage, yet it is mediated in just the way it was received by the characters as historical subjects—as TV news. The distance from the "real" events is thus both underlined and interrogated. The com­ modification of information through technology is also established by this device and supported by many different uses of contemporary communications technology in the play (telephones, earphones for stereo equipment, special lighting for "conversation areas"). During the ensuing hours Joe hosts a meeting of some of the British intellec­ tual and artistic Left to see if a working consensus can be found that will enable a coordinated response to the present situation. Present at this gathering are representatives of the various "types" of leftist individuals one might expect to find at such a meet­ ing: students, including an African-American male, a London School of Economics (LSE) professor, journalists, a writer's agent, and a national organizer for the (Trotsky) Revolutionary Socialist party. This latter is the "big gun" of the evening: he has a nasty reputation among those who are friends of Joe (his drunken friend Malcolm, his wife, Angie, and ex-wife, Kara). The heart of act 1 consists of two very long monologues, deliberately lectures or speeches, which con­ stitute a dialectic between two points of view, both of which are critiqued in the second act. Both speeches offer an analysis of the contemporary situation from a socialist perspective; both manage to miss or dismiss the events unfolding as the speeches are given—the concrete historical moment, so elusive, while seemingly under dis­ cussion. There is a great deal of humor in this play for anyone who has ever identified with the Left or been a party to any of the difficulties of trying to get cooperation and consensus from intellectuals of any persuasion. The "party" can't quite get off the ground because every­ one has her or his own carefully guarded point of view (what we now call identity politics) and because nobody knows how to begin and move forward. One particularly funny bit is the bickering around whether or not to have a chair for the meeting. Comments range from: "What do we want a chair for? Jesus Christ. There's ten of us,


After Brecht

man. Suddenly we need a bureaucracy" (41), to: "I've no objections to a chair. I don't even object to an elected executive that meets in the garden to draw up an agenda. I simply object to the tactic" (42). The first "case" is put forward by the LSE professor, Andrew Ford, who just happens to have a prepared "overview" in his brief­ case. He moves from a review of basic Marxist principles to a discus­ sion of the historical lack of twentieth-century revolutions in Europe and the subsequent absorption of the proletariat into bourgeois insti­ tutions, concluding: "In 1968, European proletariats can no longer be said to be a subversive force inside capitalism, because European proletariats no longer feel themselves faced by a European bourgeoi­ sie that concentrates in itself, to return to Marx: 'All the evils of society, embodying and representing a general obstacle and limita­ tion'" (38). Not only do the workers not perceive themselves to be pitted against an oppressive bourgeois class; in addition, revolution­ aries are simply absorbed and tolerated, a la Marcuse, whom he cites, concluding, "The very fact of our being tolerated tends to render us impotent" (39). In light of its resonant link to the opening bedroom images of the play this line of reasoning is theatrically persuasive, even for an audience not conversant with the political arguments.17 Ford's last move is to suggest that the real revolutionary action is taking place in the Third World in national liberation struggles and that, since the center of revolutionary activity has shifted from the Euroamerican capitals to the periphery, the role of intellectuals is to get out of the way and simply support the victory of these move­ ments. After a disruption by Joe's drunk friend Malcolm, John Tagg assumes the floor and gives a rejoinder to Ford's presentation, which brings the first act to a close. Those who follow Trotsky traditionally emphasize the necessity of the working class to lead and effect revo­ lutionary struggle and the need for working from an international perspective. They are critical of "Stalinism" and, therefore, of the state socialism that prevailed in eastern Europe until recently. Thus, Tagg, originally played by Lawrence Olivier, begins by affirming that he and his party have indeed noticed the "revolutionary potential" growing in sectors of the populations that are not necessarily working class: "I'm thinking of such categories as students, blacks, intellectu­ als, social deviants of one sort or another, women, and so on" (47). He then zeros in on intellectuals and castigates them for being stuck

Trevor Griffiths


with words, which are not rooted in the productive forces of the society, or, to put it another way, not part of the economic base, but only of the ideological superstructure (although he does not use those terms). Intellectuals are frustrated, according to Tagg, by their lack of real action, so they scapegoat the working class for not having revolutionary zeal and turn their attention to the Other: "blacks, students, homosexuals, terrorist groupings, Mao, Che Guevara, any­ body, just so long as they represent some repressed minority still capable of anger and the need for self-assertion" (48). He argues that these intellectuals are steeped in fatigue and moral exhaustion and are out of touch with working people, who are also aware of the faults of capitalist society. Finally, he argues for the necessity of strong revolutionary parties, organized within the working class, to harness these other groups and to work internationally for revolu­ tion. He concludes with one final challenge to intellectuals: "The intellectual's problem is not vision, it's commitment. You enjoy biting the hand that feeds you, but you'll never bite it off" (53). At the very end he dismisses the French students as similarly being unwilling to give up their future positions guaranteed by bourgeois class privi­ leges. The last images for the act are the bloody demonstrations around the Sorbonne, at high volume. Given history since, these may cor­ roborate or contradict Tagg's analysis, depending on interpretation.18 Contemporary spectators may argue that intellectuals dropped the revolutionary ball in 1968 and subsequently knuckled under to Thatcherism, or they may say that if the Left had expanded its base and formed more significant coalitions with Others, a new leftist politics might have been more successful at preventing the decay of the Left in the following twenty years. Updated versions of both Tagg's and Ford's arguments have been prominent in discussions of the crisis of socialism after the fall of the Berlin Wall.19 In Brechtian historicization, the crucial analogue between the specifics of the his­ torical situation and the present time of the production work to moti­ vate spectators to interrogate their own situations. The play has the potential for this usefulness in the early 1990s. The second act of The Party is almost an epilogue; there is no action to speak of, only a coda, a kind of commentary on what went before. From Tagg, before he leaves, comes a denunciation of the student rebellion as hopelessly bourgeois. His own party has failed


After Brecht

to take action in solidarity with the students because, if the workers join in, the French Communist party will be running the show, and he is convinced that such a situation will be historically counterpro­ ductive. He also confesses, upon leaving, that he has a tumor that will kill him by the end of the year, but he has no dependents, and his only regret is that "it's just such a bloody waste": "I was banking on ten more good years to build the party" (61). He bears a striking resemblance to Kabak in his personal effects. Joe's drunken friend Malcolm wanders back in from the garden, where he spent the night, to exchange Bible verses from Proverbs, Jeremiah, and Revelation with Joe and to insist that in his television work Joe cannot rise above the other bourgeois producers with whom he works. Joe's working-class brother comes back after a night out, and Joe finally agrees to give him money to set himself up in busi­ ness, even though in act 1 Joe has thought this a direct contribution to a capitalism he depises. His wife returns, apparently from an eve­ ning with her lover. The last image is Joe, holding the pet guinea pig in his arms, a symbol of nature and pain, whose squeals, like those of his friend Malcolm, have been the only nonsynthetic expressions of feeling in the play. This last image is transferred to the wall screen, historicizing him and his moment of pain and impotence as the light fades. Like many traditional dramas, this one is about coming to a set of identity revelations. As Joe becomes more and more clear about the ambiguity and confusion of his positions and his roles, we too become clearer about the dilemmas of the left-wing bourgeois intel­ lectual in the late 1960s. To understand this "identity" is to under­ stand some of the failures of the intellectual leadership of the Left in the period preceding our own. The play provides the invitation to identify with Joe's personal and ethical predicaments. In one of the most interesting aspects of the play in the 1990s, however, the play interrogates the West relative to both a response and a lack of corre­ sponding initiative. One reading of Tagg's role in the drama is that because of a narrow sectarianism (the refusal of the Revolutionary Socialist Party to form a coalition with the French Communist Party), a moment of critical historical consequences, potentially parallel to the downing of the Berlin Wall, was missed. "Le geste était beau/' but the revolution did not take place. In another analogous reading the Western intellectual world,

Trevor Griffiths


mired in the confusion of late-capitalist ubiquitous co-optation, has watched while the world changed again, this time in 1990, and is proving itself incapable of analysis, of coalition, of initiative. Identity politics is as essential and as problematic today as it was in 1968, and most British and certainly most Americans still have no notion of how to respect difference and forge mutual accommodations. Like Colin Wilson's Outsider from 1954, Joe Shawcross sees too much and too deeply, and the knowledge itself, the clarity about the unclarity, ren­ ders him socially and literally impotent. Rather like The Good Person of Seizuan, the dilemma is thrown back on the audience: What other alternatives are available, given these unacceptable ones? These con­ tradictions seem to have produced stalemate; what systemic and sub­ jective changes will be necessary to break it? The two plays, Occupations and The Party, deal with socialist the­ ory and history in detail and with great sophistication. Like Brecht, Griffiths expects that his audiences can follow arguments, weigh al­ ternatives, and make judgments. The lengths of the two "big" speeches in The Party stop the action, or, rather, change the concept of action to mean following the line of logic while taking in the social gestus of the spectacle (Griffiths visually marks both Ford's and Tagg's addresses with the signs of the particular social interactions involved).20 This constructed position for the audience, that of weigh­ ing the alternatives, is strongly reprised in Griffiths's best-known play, Comedians. Comedians Comedians is Griffiths's most Brechtian play and also the one that is best known in the United States. Jonathan Pryce established himself as a tour de force actor as Gethin Price in the original production, the renegade comedian and problematic alternative to the usual bipolar schemata of philistine contra liberal humanist.21 I propose to look at the play through the 1993 lenses of a feminist critic who is disposed to look for representations of difference in all forms and who finds in the play, now, a topical discussion of difference that joins the struggle to articulate difference and a politics of resistance. The play is about men (there are no female characters) in the homosocial world of working-class urban experience, in which becoming a comedian on the club circuit represents a way of escaping demeaning repetitive


After Brecht

work for a "creative" alternative. The context of this experience is a society that provides a run-down night school, actually a run-down secondary school at night, for what we in the United States refer to as "continuing education." In these squalid surroundings men come to practice being funny after their day jobs end, in search of a possible way to break the chains of their laboring existence and to enter some "higher" level of cultural production. The play targets one such group's end-of-term "audition," when an external examiner with the ability to offer work and withhold it watches the group of students perform in a local club. In addition to the contradictions between the place of learning and the promise of learning, Griffiths represents the contradictions of art in a commodified culture, controlled and distributed by an absent Other. In his continuing critique of the political subject Griffiths offers spectators several positions for viewing the play. All the comedianstudents want to do well, to have a chance to get a contract and an alternative career. They find themselves caught between a teacher who has respect for them as human beings and strong liberal human­ ist views about the role of comedy—he's "trained" them—and an external examiner who represents the real world of escapist enter­ tainment and who tells them upfront: "I'm not looking for philoso­ phers, I'm looking for comics. I'm looking for someone who sees what the people want and knows how to give it them."22 The action of the play involves the choices the comedians make about whose model they will follow and the implications these choices entail. Difference is the stuff of comedy. Using generalizations about Others as its basic material, comedy must confront issues of race, class, and sex by definition. The first act of the play "schools" the audience by pointing out, through the warmups of the students, through teacher Eddie Waters's comments to his students, and through his objections to some work ("It's a joke that hates women, Gethin"), what the moral issues in stand-up comedy entail. In clear distinction to the external examiner's notion of supply and demand, Waters sees his comedians as leaders: "But a true joke, a comedians' joke, has to do more than release tension, it has to liberate the will and the desire, it has to change the situation. . .. There's very little won't take a joke. But when a joke bases itself upon a distortion—a 'stereotype' perhaps—and gives the lie to the truth so as to win a

Trevor Griffiths


laugh and stay in favour, we've moved away from a comic art and into the world of 'entertainment' and slick success" (20). But, then, Griffiths's graphic depictions show that these men are sick of their gray and alienated existence and may not be in a position to "take the high road" when the scramble is on. One can simply judge them as sellouts, but Griffiths doesn't do that; instead, he identifies the con­ tradictions under which they live and the class oppression that they suffer. In the actual competitive routines that they give, several of the comics change their material at the last minute to give "the man" what he wants. Two Irish comedians choose opposite paths: Connor sticks to his rehearsed routine and gives a monologue that stresses what it feels like to be oppressed for ethnic or racial reasons: "Trouble­ makers, I never knew we wuz troublemakers till I got to England. You don't, you know. I mean, what are you lot, eh, do you know? You don't find out, do you? Just people. You'd have to go to India o r . . . Africa . . . or Ireland to find out" (38). External examiner Challenor doesn't like it; he finds it too earnest ("You know, as if you were giving a sermon" [57-58]). McBrain begins with a barrage of sterotypes about everybody: "There's this coloured feller on his way to work. Don't yo think that's funny? There's this very honest Jew. No favourites here. . . . I tried to get the wife to come." Challenor's response is positive, and he gets a contract: "See, that's what I mean, don't push your own particular prejudice, you're there on their terms, not your own" (59). Until Gethin Price's monologue the evening dem­ onstrates two sorts of choices, one of which is honorable but with the knowledge that "nice guys finish last," the other of which is dishon­ orable but rewarded. Along the axis of social power there is no ques­ tion but that a marginal position is no position. If this were the only message of Comedians, it would be a bourgeois tragedy in the "old" mode; the alternative of Gethin Price makes it a Brechtian epic play. Gethin is clearly Waters's favorite because he is obviously gifted and serious. His act, however, has not been rehearsed and is known to no one, and it turns out to be very different from what Waters has taught him. Price does not try to dissolve tensions of class, gender, and race by creating a humanist tolerance that merely camouflages the deep divisions of society. His piece articulates and attacks class privilege, creating the upper-middle-class as a pair of unresponsive dummies to whom he is both solicitous and viscious. In his costume


After Brecht

("half clown, half this year's version of bovver boy" [49]) he repre­ sents a stereotype, and he also sterotypes the audience through their representatives, the "well-dressed, beautiful people" dummies. He acts out the "comedy" of assimilation and aggression, which is the repetitive "plot" of class, race, and gender tension. He does not pro­ vide answers, but he does reverse the terms of understanding. He represents the subject-as-Other and succeeds in placing the audience in the object position, identified with the dummies. For a brief time a politics of resistance through cultural production is palpable, one that is thoroughly rooted in and specific to the delineated context (white, male, urban proletariat) while providing a viewpoint for other diverse groups as well (although the violence perpetrated against the female dummy tends to reinscribe the female as object). Of course, Challenor hates Price's act, finding it "repulsive. And aggressively unfunny" (60). But that is nearly irrelevant as the real debate is between Waters and Price on which style of comedy has a more useful social purpose. Waters thinks the act was brilliant but not acceptable; Price appeals to truth: Waters: It was ugly. It was drowning in hate. You can't change today into tomorrow on that basis. You forget a thing called. . . the truth. Price: The truth. Can I say. . . look, I wanna say something. What do you know about the truth, Mr. Waters? You think the truth is beautiful? You've forgotten what it's like. . . . We're still caged, exploited, prodded and pulled at, milked, fattened, slaughtered, cut up, fed out. We still don't belong to our­ selves. Nothing's changed. You've just forgotten, that's all. (65) In the horrible historical truth of Buchenwald, Waters saw the logic of inhumanity and refused to laugh, while Price saw the neces­ sity for resistance and the tool of laughter. Both want social change and a better world—Waters by social reform, Price by revolution. Griffiths provides an unresolved dialectic for the audience to ponder. The final note, in a roundabout way, is sounded for Waters's position. A running "gag" in the play has been the presence of Mr. Patel, an Asian man, who shows up at the school, the victim of a

Trevor Griffiths


racist practical joke: he has been deliberately sent to the wrong class based on a backward formation of the course title (he wants "Learn­ ing to Read" while the class is a university-level class in literature called "Reading to Learn"). He is the absent Other, the underrepre­ sented subject, the material effect of this dramatic discourse. Waters is kind to him throughout and, at the end, invites him to join his next class on comedy. Griffiths seems to say that there are several paths of resistance and that Waters is not to be viewed as totally discredited by Price's compelling challenge. The play is obviously a learning play, a kind of Lehrstück, the school and the examples only too clear as "pleasurable learning" for the spectator.23 This lesson involves foregrounding its own theatricality, since the cultural apparatus of performing is on display. Bringing a Brechtian attention to meanings produced in the comedy industry, its power relations and ideology, enables the spectators to look at the shape of performance even as they watch it. Price also creates a disturbance of the surface realism through his "comic" act. Spectators are forced to confront their own responses to humor: when and what they find funny and how they are implicated in the ideological and cultural assumptions of the performance apparatus. Even though, strictly speaking, the play is continuous, illusionistic, detailed—in short, realistic—it produces enough epic effects to reflect the Brechtian legacy. In Cloud 9 Churchill used cross-casting to pre­ sent her characters to the audience as social constructions; Griffiths accomplishes the same goal through the device of the comedy school and club. Piano In the mid-1970s, Griffiths wrote a version of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. He sharpened the social critique and especially stressed the role of the tutor, Petya, as a portent of a new possible future. Often, traditionally, Petya is seen only as an idealist, full of fine visions but unable to take action—reflected in his inability to consummate his romantic relationship with Anna. He is chastised by Lybof for imma­ turity and ugliness, and, while it is clearly a defensive attack on her part, it usually carries some weight toward dismissing the student's authority within the drama. Griffiths subtly changed that in his trans­


After Brecht

lation.24 It was, with the exception of one play, Real Dreams, the only writing he had done for the theater, until recently, for quite some time. In 1985, when I first interviewed him, he was pessimistic about the theater and not sure that he would write for it anymore. In 1990, however, his new play, Piano, opened at the National Theatre, and Griffiths described three more theater projects he then had in mind: a riposte to Danton's Death, an experimental piece about the nature of work, and a pantomime based on Dick Whittington's Cat, which would introduce sociopolitical material to a basically conservative genre, the Christmas panto. Piano comes after a long involvement with Chekhov, a writer whom one would expect Griffiths to appreciate, given their mutual concern with individuals' responses to personal failures, against a sociopolitical backdrop. He contemplated writing a sequel to The Cherry Orchard and then planned with Mike Nichols to do all the Chekhov plays. These projects were abandoned for various reasons, but, after seeing the Russian film Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano by A. Adabashyan and N. Mikhalkov, Griffiths embarked on a kind of intertextual pastiche of material from the film, Chekhovian mate­ rial from Platonov, and several short stories ("Peasants" and "Three Years"). "It's about a group of individual people, 'characters' who knit together into a kind of class presentation," Griffiths says. "And I wanted the period of 1904 to be a kind of historical correlative of the 1980s." The play is about the juxtaposition of meaning and possibility against the abdicated turpitude of a society that has lost any sense of meaning. Unlike Chekhov, there is no possibility of Griffiths's siding with the ruling class; no sentimental pity is finally allowable. The play has a host of recognizable characters from Chekhov and Russian literature and perhaps also from contemporary life. The jaded quality of these people is what makes them so 1980s. A house party happens to bring together a pair of lovers who have been parted for seven years, during which each has made disastrous com­ promises with initial ideals and goals. Their confrontation becomes the occasion for general exposure of bad faith and calling to accounts for shiftless and unethical lives. Of course, it makes no difference to them, really, for "nothing will change" and another day will dawn. But for Griffiths, in a lesson similar to Mother Courage's Song of the

Trevor Griffiths


Great Capitulation, something may in fact change because: "Grass dies. Iron rusts. Lies eat the soul.. .. Everything's possible."25 This odd little epigram is the central core of the play. In fact, things change; those who are exploiters are truly eaten by their own sins; someone may come after. It is in some ways a perverse message of hope to those of us who live through postmodern times in a state of nausea and confusion, pointing to historical process as a hopeful attribute of life. Griffiths has experienced a critical political change in his situ­ ation as a writer and also as a member of British society during the years between The Cherry Orchard and Piano. Commenting on the positive role of the tutor in his version of The Cherry Orchard, he says, "The problem is that in 1978, a political perspective was still viable to me, while in 1990, that perspective, well, you can have it as a notion, but I don't think it's living in quite the same way I meant it in The Cherry Orchard/'26 While there were still oppositional spaces open in the late 1970s, by the time Griffiths wrote Piano he saw much more damage to society, much more inertia in place of struggle— thus, there is an emphasis in Piano on a future when change might be possible, and on the difficulty of living with less-than-satisfactory accommodation.27 Citing the pernicious damage of Thatcherism and the collapse of the Labour Party's productive opposition as factors in the decline of sociocultural life, he sees that "Piano is a proper adjust­ ment to the new situation, while Comedians would be unthinkable as a new play in 1990": "I mean it quite literally, I don't think I would be able to 'think' Comedians in 1990. It is a struggle play, it's about an ongoing social, physical struggle. Whereas writers are singular now—at least I don't any longer feel like part of a broad grouping who share some goals and some modes and means of achieving them."28 Ironically, this new postmodern condition seems to have brought Griffiths back to writing for the theater, in part, perhaps, because Thatcherism's privatization has also wrecked the notion of television as disruptive cultural production that Griffiths once held: Television as an instrument is one thing, television as a system within a society is another. Under Thatcher deregulation, in broadcasting now, whoever can pay, you can buy what you want. The cathedral sense of an audience for a play or a series


After Brecht is virtually destroyed. Even if it's possible to mount it now, in three or four years' time it won't be. The last project I worked on was in '87 when I spent a long time down in South Wales trying to research a play about the miner's strike. Then the Head of Drama and the main director at BBC were transferred, and they were the two people I worked with there, and their replace­ ments were quite different. . . . I didn't even bother showing them the script, which by then was almost written. So I've come back to the theater, because there's still a little to be done here.29

With Piano Griffiths attempts to reach the audience that attends the theater, at least the National Theatre, where Piano had its pre­ miere: an upper middle class of patrons who may find themselves in the same situations as the major characters in the play. What they confront in this play is the context of their compromises and excesses. Griffiths's combination of nineteenth-century realism and epic tech­ niques kills the sympathy of the former and diminishes the "dis­ tance" of the latter. This is his true post-Brechtian/post-Lukacsian style—a hybridized version of them both, containing complexity and particularity. Although the play is a pastiche of borrowings from various Chekhov texts and the Russian film Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano, Griffiths strongly marks the play as his own through various additions and reformulations. The most important of these is a set of "bookend" scenes that work as an alienation device to contextualize the narrative. For the first moments of the play the attention is fo­ cused on two peasants, Radish and Zakhar, and on the labor that they provide to facilitate the main action of the play.30 They are en­ gaged in the impossible task of hauling a pianola, ordered from Moscow at the exorbitant price of two thousand rubles, to the pro­ vincial southern estate of the late General Voynitsev. Griffiths stages the actual labor of transporting the piano over a most unlikely plank bridge, in addition to Radish's storytelling, which includes the epi­ gram mentioned above and Zakhar's music on a mouth organ—in other words, an alternative cultural production to the mechanical piano of the bourgeoisie. While "everything's possible" helps the peasants manage the ingenuity and determination to accomplish the task, it also forms a hope for the future time beyond the play, when, as stuck and as futile as these people-to-be-represented seem, histori­

Trevor Griffiths


cal change may be possible in the next generation, in the alliances of peasants like Radish and Zakhar with the young bourgeois child as grownup. The last image of the play also takes place on the bridge, as dawn breaks, the three of them, two peasants and a boy, holding hands. Radish offers the counterpoint to the dreary pessimism of the lot below. While the house party regulars insist that "nothing changes," that "everything will be as it was," Radish affirms: "Grass dies. Iron rusts. Lies eat the soul... . Everything's possible" (55). "The idea was always that the two peasants, the people who sub-serve, who underpin the weekend, should be very busy, without words," according to Griffiths. Throughout the play there are a myr­ iad of tasks of domestic labor that take place in order that the group of friends and relatives who are at the center of the play should be able to have their various meals, games, and entertainments. For example, servants put up a waterproof awning over the eating area to counter the thunder that threatens. The silent ministrations of the servants throw into relief the specific trivial and unreasonable de­ mands of the group: Zakhar is sent to find a pig for one of the card games; Radish is prevailed upon to do birdcalls while being insulted as stupid; servants are sent to fetch a horse for Sergei, although in fact he does not have a horse. In all of these cases the thoughtless­ ness, the lack of awareness of what these requests entail, is inscribed in the class position of the one who demands. One servant, Yasha, is different. He is easily Yasha from The Cherry Orchard, reborn to serve in the Voynitsev household. He refuses to be silent, to be ser­ vile, and constantly protests the things he is asked to do. He is not, however, in any way an oppositional figure, since what he wants is status and recognition from within the ruling class framework. He is a typical headwaiter in a fancy restaurant who "gets off" on underlin­ ing the difference between himself and those who work under him. Against this background of enabling domestic labor Griffiths jux­ taposes the banal and ridiculous life of a decadent bourgeoise. The best of the lot, having passed into middle age betraying the goals and ideals of their youth, are mostly self-indulgent and somewhat cruel to others. The older generation is insistent on its privilege and its obliviousness to the rot around it. The only representative of a younger generation, the ten-year-old Petya, is continually abused and mistreated, much as the servants are treated as children, both classes oppressed by the "adults."

i6 6

After Brecht

Of the group that assembles, various "positions" are repre­ sented: Anna, the beautiful widow of the general, who makes a life by enchanting her creditors and collecting men's attentions as a hedge against her vapid and self-serving existence; the men who "love" her, including a doctor who drinks and who fails to practice medicine in an ethical and responsible fashion, a landowner who "idealizes" women and wants to marry her but who understands nothing about the world or about people and is, finally, ridiculous and pitiable, and her chief creditor, who, having "arrived" from the working class, now enjoys his power over her and the others, a power derived from money: "My dad was terrified of this place, wouldn't come near it. And I've sat in every room in the house exchanging pleasantries with her Excellency. Not bad" (40). Present too is Shcherbuk, another creditor, who rants continually about the inherent superiority of the bloodline of aristocrats but who demon­ strates, with every word he utters, the opposite. The colonel, father of the doctor, is senile, drunken, and disgusting. A subgroup of this larger group, the "younger" generation, ren­ ders any "liberal" position ridiculous. Sergei, the dead general's son and stepson to Anna, runs around in expensive imitation peasant clothes and talks of high liberal ideals while doing nothing. He and his wife, Sophia, make a joke out of what was first-wave feminism in 1904, reducing it to style (". . . in our view handkissing demeans women. We don't kiss men's hands now, do we?" [19]). They are also masters of the grand, empty gesture, as when Sergei announces to the group that he has "decided to give the peasants all my old suits, every last one of them. And all my old shoes" (29). He meets indifference, and then laughter, as Platonov, rolling in mirth, com­ ments: "I just had this picture. . . of how extraordinary they're all going to look.. . mowing in their frock-coats" (29). Platonov, of course, appears as the possible exception to these others, because he has what they all, except perhaps for Anna, seem to lack: self-knowledge. When he and Sophia meet, seven years after a student love affair, we glimpse an earlier moment when both he and Sophia might have been other: he was a gifted poet who might have been minister of state; she was going to be an actress. Instead, he never finished his degree and is now a provincial schoolteacher, and not very good at that. She has married Sergei and plays a role as pseudosocial activist that is empty and fruitless. And Platonov

Trevor Griffiths


Piano, by Trevor Griffiths. National Theatre, August 1990. Directed by How­ ard Davies. Photograph by John Haynes.

undermines any sympathy or identification one might feel with him by blaming his shortcomings on others, most noticeably his wife, Sashenka, who loves him desperately and whom he continually abuses: "Sasha, where are you? You've ruined my life, ruined it!" (52). He is no better than the others. Self-knowledge is not license; it is sometimes self-indulgence. The young boy who appears in the play is ten years old, the nephew to the fascist Shcherbuk. Each time we see him he is scolded for failing to observe some social convention. He is cuffed for bun­ gling his introduction to Anna, switched for turning on the phono­ graph and interrupting the dinner party with a loud rendition of Caruso singing "Una Furtiva Lacrima," yelled at for offering to help Radish and Zakhar unwrap the piano. His position in the play, both as promise for the future and as evidence of cultural and not biologi­ cal inscription, introduces another possible parallel between the 1980s and 1904. Griffiths comments: "There is that traditional debate in Russian culture, set out clearly in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, about the generational tensions around the question of the future.

i6 8

After Brecht

What is the future? How do we make the future? Fathers who had been the sons of radicals became the conservatives and their sons became the new radicals. So there is the suggestion that the nephew Petya will form some kind of alliance with the peasants, with peasant creativity. It's quite schematic."31 Thus, while there is seemingly no possibility of change coming from any of the grownups assembled in this group, there is a chance for real change in the future. As 1904 marked a time before the revolutionary one, so might these empty, materialist 1990s mark a time before the conservative children of 1960s parents have their own children, who will perhaps see the world differently and act on it progressively. Griffiths's two Chekhovian plays demonstrate what he means by his commitment to realism and also how he transforms it into a sharply etched struc­ ture of political meanings. This play is quite far from Brecht, yet as with Chekhov, Brecht is not irrelevant to an understanding of Grif­ fiths's dramaturgy. The G ulf between Us In January of 1991, just days before the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, I met Trevor Griffiths before a performance of Piano in the National Theatre canteen to talk about his recent work and also about the fall of the Berlin Wall. He described his excitement about some experimental rehearsals he was involved in at Leeds, where he was engaged in an improvisational project with two actors around the act of working—in this case the work entailed building a wall. He was interested in the actors' investments in actual work onstage in real time and the possible meanings and nuances of staging this actual work. He said: "I think that any play that focuses on work is impor­ tant, or sort of important, anyway. I had this idea and said to the actors, see what you can build in an hour, and they built a wall—one of the actors is actually a jobbing builder when he's not an actor—and in one hour's time they built this wall, and I thought 'Now! to see what this m eans.'"32 This somewhat formalist enterprise became the foundation for Griffiths's response to the Persian Gulf War. He has spoken about being in a Beverly Hills hotel on the night of January 16-17 when the war broke out and about his phone call to one of the actors when he returned home, saying, "I think these guys should be building a wall

Trevor Griffiths


in the Middle East." Of the many things the play is "about," one unifying aspect is the time and attention and energy spent on tasks in the play—clearing the perimeter, sorting through the rubble, building the wall. The reality of the bombing raids and the play's genesis in Griffiths's rage and horror make activity per se both absurd and strangely necessary, seeming to hold off, or hold in abeyance, the next human catastrophe. This is where the other major referent for the play, Tales of a Thousand and One Nights, comes into play. Tell a story, ward off death; tell a story, keep evil at bay: "Wherein it came to pass, on the twenty-first night was told the Tale of the Builder, the Gilder, the Minder and the Gulf between them."33 The play is actually the story of four people who have completely different motivations and agendas, brought together because a bomb­ ing raid has blown a hole in a shrine, which has recently been used as a crèche (a nursery) and which had military materials stored in the roof. One person must help build the wall in order to get permission to leave the country, one must use the situation to secure the release and escape of a young friend, one must guarantee the wall repair before nightfall, and one must report on the safety of the children. Perhaps the tale title mentions only three because the fourth is a woman, and, as such, she stands apart from the men in terms of the ethics she displays and the viewpoint she represents. Griffiths says that, "even though the Brits are at the heart of this play, they're not at the moral centre of it. At the moral centre are Arabs who are experiencing this crushing, horrific, punitive, exemplary war which is being handed down to them by the Western Alliance for reasons and values that really don't stand up to even the most cursory scru­ tiny" (vii). Dr. Aziz, and through her the mothers and children who suffer because of the acts of men, is the clear moral center of this play. Second would come the young Arab "minder," Ismael, linked to the dead children through his own youth but complicit in the logic of male authority and dominance as he struggles to become a "man." The two Brits are far behind these two, builder Ryder, because he has no concern for anyone beyond himself, and gilder O'Toole, in spite of his greater insight and knowledge than the others, because, in the end, he participates in the master male narrative of Western privilege and violence, no matter what he has learned of different languages and cultures. Between the bombing of the previous night and the bombing to


After Brecht

Dave Hill as O'Toole in The Gulf Between Us, by Trevor Griffiths. West York­ shire Playhouse, Leeds, January 1992. Photograph by Gerry Murray, cour­ tesy of Trevor Griffiths.

come—a meditation on situation. This is one construct for viewing the play. The bombing is inevitable, not because a God, Christian or Muslim, determines it, but because human beings have made choices that are now fully in motion, as automatic as the sun rising and setting. Griffiths takes some pains with this issue: Dr. Aziz is Chris­ tian; the Arab workers pray to Allah; at the end of the play both English and Arabic inscriptions of "God is Good" appear (ironically) across the tent. God is absent from this landscape, yet in the extrem­ ity of the situation the absence of a God to blame also underlies the need for some appeal to compassion, mercy, righteousness. If reli­ gion is somehow set aside, bracketed, what is left is humanity—to interrogate, to blame, to restore. What is done in the interlude be­ tween the bombing raids can be examined for its role in producing or maintaining the situation, and it can also be weighed for any difference it can or may make. While Griffiths, as always, seems

Trevor Griffiths


Salwa Nakkarah as Dr. Aziz in The Gulf Between Us, by Trevor Griffiths. West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, January 1992. Photograph by Gerry Murray, courtesy of Trevor Griffiths.

pessimistically certain that the gulf between the four people in his play is unbreachable, he enables an audience to glimpse what might be otherwise, in some other historical moment. The politics of the play are similar to Edward Bond's in the War Trilogy; that is, like Bond, Griffiths insists on considering the condi­ tion of war as the ontological status of the present world. As Aziz says to an absent American president: "You destroy your past with these acts. Your future too. Wars only have beginnings. No endings" (49). The fact that the crèche was bombed, though the bombers knew it housed children, is unthinkable, yet it was done, considered "col­ lateral damage." The Arabs themselves knew the building was a target for enemy fire from the beginning, because they had stowed "command and control gear" in the roof of the building. Both sides simply discounted human costs, discounted children, because mili­ tary goals were more absolute, more valuable. The valor of young

After Brecht


Ismael and his eventual death serve as a symbol of the impossibility of nurturing youth in this death-dealing world. As O'Toole says over Ismael's dead body, "This boy, our hero, Lord, met death from a surfeit of orders and choked on his own obedience, for he was a good soldier" (57). Griffiths first shows Ismael with a football attached to his foot by an elastic band, "a kid's football," writes Griffiths, which Ismael must remove in order to carry out his orders to shoot the school bus driver. Like the young soldier in The War Plays who must kill a child on his home street, Ismael is ideologically constructed to be the good soldier. Is there any Brecht in this play? In many ways Griffiths's own affect, his rage and his grief, imbue this play with an emotional register that denies Brechtian distance. Yet, recalling Griffiths's own remark that Brecht inevitably inflects modern writing, I find several marks of epic dramaturgy in the play. In a dystopic sense The Gulf between Us is a parable play as surely as Caucasian Chalk Circle. At the beginning of the play O'Toole, dressed in Arab workmen's dress and carrying his gilder's tools, speaks to the auditorium: The annals of former generations Are lessons to the living; men and women May look back upon the fortunes Of predecessors and be warned; And by contemplating The history of past ages Be purged of folly. (1)

These lines gloss The Tales of Arabian Nights and explain that the play will tell this tale of the "past" in order to inform the future. In this sense the Persian Gulf War itself is already past, and a double warning issues from the play (recall the comparison to Bond). Then there is the relationship of storyteller to spectator. O'Toole is an odd narrator. He is not unlike Azdak of Caucasian Chalk Circle in his savvy understanding of the situation and his concern to make things come out his own way. He is, however, more mysterious and more pernicious than Azdak; most likely he is a British government operative, an agent of some sort who gilds as his cover. He speaks at key moments to clarify or summarize the situation, yet he does not

Trevor Griffiths


appear to have commitments to anything morally or ethically supe­ rior to the others, unless saving his Indian "apprentice" qualifies as honor. It is as if Griffiths writes a part for a Brit who knows and understands the score, but he refuses to romanticize the character by implying that knowledge raises him above complicity in his coun­ try's history and deeds. O'Toole is no hero. But he does control the narrative, and he succeeds in his objectives by the end. In a Brechtian reading of Not/But we might say that the play could have been a rescue plot featuring the good guys (Brits) at the center, managing to outsmart and outlast the Arabs, making a triumphant getaway from the bombs. It is precisely not this story that is being told, and from the vantage of the actual text the rescue plot seems almost beside the point. So what if it worked? What is that compared to the dead children, the dead young man Ismael, the world at war in the name of a new world order? Looking over the range of Griffiths's work, his effort to frame or contextualize his material appears a strategic and, I would argue, epic feature. He doesn't provide Brecht's scene titles, but the pro­ logue of The Party, the epigram of Piano, and, here, the storytelling/ parable device of The Tales of Arabian Nights set up a controlling frame­ work from which to historicize and interrogate the incidents of his narratives. Griffiths provides this frame for his viewers to enable The Gulf between Us to make a contribution to what we now call "postcolonial discourse." As is always the case, he must still write as a white European male—mostly about other white European males, but in an attempt to interrogate their position, their whiteness. In The Gulf between Us he accomplishes this primarily by placing the Arabs, not the Europeans, "at the ethical center" and by representing and cri­ tiquing British colonial ideology. Billy Ryder provides a version of working-class racism that Griffiths pushes beyond prejudice against Arabs. Ryder demonstrates contempt for Ismael by lying to him and then laughing at his presumed gullibility. But, lest one think this only a specific racial hatred, Ryder unleashes a string of invective against O'Toole as well when O'Toole smashes his (Ryder's) hand (it appears to be accidental, although we know O'Toole did it deliberately to have an excuse to send for his Indian friend to help him with the work): "You thick Irish twat ye, Paddy, clumsy bogtrotting, pig-igno­ rant get y e , . . . Jesus God, no wonder you dress like 'em, Seamus,


After Brecht

you're exactly their fuckin' level" (27). This speech produces an Aeffect because, until this point, the structure of opposition has been British versus Arab, White versus Brown, and now suddenly the whole procedure of xenophobia is visible. It operates like the moment in Churchill's Mad Forest when the hatred of Hungarians suddenly resonates with echoes of hatred of Blacks or Jews. Ryder is himself "pig-ignorant" but thinks he occupies the center of the world as a First World white man. At the end of the play he makes it explicit. He complains to Chatterjee that O'Toole could have "had us all dead." Chatterjee shows him Ismael's body, commenting, "Some of us are, Billy." Ryder replies: "I meant us. I meant me" (55). For far too many First World citizens Others just don't count. Grif­ fiths shows how an ordinary guy, a guy who has a wife and family and a small business in Swanwee, can live in total self-interest and capitalist greed. Ryder stayed in the country as war was threatening in order to take the business advantage of being the only foreign supplier available. He may be the most despicable character Griffiths has written, and he's not intended to represent an aberration but, rather, a commonplace. The other crucial aspect of Griffiths's representation is the pres­ ence of main characters from other cultures who are central, not peripheral, to the action and meaning of the play. He thought this very important and cast four Palestinians and an Indian in the appro­ priate roles. He cast Palestinians because they would, "by dint of their own experience, understand the issues that this play deals with. It's not a play about Palestine or Israel, but Palestinians are much more political than almost anybody else in the region by virtue of their own history; and that hunch, about the essential contribution they would make to the production, has proved right" (vii-viii). Several years ago I read an essay by bell hooks suggesting that white people who want to contribute to the struggle against racism would do well to analyze and interrogate their own whiteness. For a long time I was not sure what she meant. As examples appeared, I began to see a process of decentering the colonial eye/I and uncover­ ing the ideological structures of racism as central to this task. The Gulf between Us stages one version of this critique. Postscript, January 17, 1993: As I finish typing these words, two years almost to the day from the outbreak of hostilities, the United States has resumed its armed confrontation with Iraq after a squalid

Trevor Griffiths


zero-sum game of macho baiting and retaliation, aimed on both sides at face-saving and one-upmanship. The retaliatory raid included a small "accident": a missile hit a hotel—unfortunate collateral dam­ age.

Chapter 6

John McGrath: Brecht and the Popular Tradition

Our conception of the "popular" refers to the people who are not only fully involved in the process of development but are actually taking it over, forcing it, deciding it. We have in mind a people that is making history and altering the world and itself. We have in mind a fighting people and also a fighting conception of "popularity."1 One can say that John McGrath's theater constructs and is con­ structed by Brecht's conception of the popular. Quoted in McGrath's A Good Night Out, this passage from Brecht is instructive for its for­ mulation of a target audience that may or may not yet exist in any given historical moment. For Brecht, writing in 1938, the clear polari­ ties of the moment left little question about the constituency ad­ dressed. As John McGrath appreciates, part of the challenge of his theater has been to help create a climate of activity and possibility in a time of national confusion and malaise in the wake of the Thatcher years. He has experienced the fat and the lean during these years in terms of his own creative work, ranging from the "boom years" of funding (minimal but actual) between 1968 and 1975 to the successive cutbacks of the Thatcher regime, which have eventually forced the demise of 7:84. He is not unrealistic about theater's role in building the classless society, but he is clear that it has a role: "The theatre can never cause a social change. It can articulate the pressures towards one, help people to celebrate their strengths and maybe build their self-confidence."2 For this study McGrath poses quite a different, even opposite, challenge than someone like David Hare. With Hare the argument is to persuade my readers that, in spite of many strong signs to the contrary (namely, Hare's powerful psychological realism), he really 177



After Brecht

does share some goals and techniques with Brecht. With John McGrath, in the case of which even a cursory glance at his work makes the connection to Brecht seem almost self-evident, from the use of music and popular forms to the articulateness of his workingclass politics, the task is to underline the uniquely British aspects of his work and the other, non-Brechtian elements in his writing. Another aspect of his work that differentiates McGrath from the others in this book is that it has mostly been written for a company, 7:84, which shared his political commitments and saw the common task to be a combination of theater and politics. For twenty years 7:84 traveled to working-class venues such as pubs, working men's clubs, union halls, and community centers, trying to create and to respond to working people's culture. The perseverance and uncompromising resolve of McGrath and his company not to forsake this constituency for the bourgeois theater, which is "part of that legitimating ideology,"3 is remarked on and respected by many of his colleagues, even though they have chosen a different way of working and have a diverging analysis of political culture. While the original members of the group have not worked continuously for 7:84, many of them have gone on to work with other alternative companies (such as Belt and Braces, Wildcat, and Monstrous Regiment), and some have intermittantly returned. In 1985, for instance, several of the early members took part in 7:84 projects, including Gavin Richards, Sandy Craig, Sue Timothy, Gillian Hanna, and David McClennan. Elizabeth MacLennan, McGrath's wife, has been with the company continu­ ously. John McGrath resigned from his position as artistic director of 7:84 in the summer of 1988, and after several years under "new" management the company itself seems doomed. Since over the years McGrath wrote over half of the company's shows and made most of the important artistic decisions, it is clear that 7:84, as McGrath's company, doing his kind of theater, is over. The recent history of McGrath's struggle over funding and ad­ ministration offers a chilling picture of the Thatcher years' destructive legacy to political theater. In a narrative that is similar in many re­ spects to the English Arts Council's response to companies such as Monstrous Regiment, Joint Stock, Red Ladder, and Foco Novo, the very defining characteristics of the company—its overt socialism, re­ gionalism, and topicality—became liabilities in an era of financial

John McGrath


efficiency and management teams. In the last part of this chapter I will sketch the outlines of this history. The chapter begins with McGrath's theories about theater in rela­ tion to Brecht's theories, then looks at his own theatrical practice and, finally, at several representative plays and their production histories. In the mid-1950s John McGrath was reading English at Oxford (where he met Ariane Mnouchkine, whom he greatly admires).4 He heard of the visit of the Berliner Ensemble in 1956, although he didn't see the group perform, as he was out of the country. Through Ken­ neth Tynan and Encore magazine he knew very early that Brecht was producing exciting theater. He remembers going to see Peggy Ashcroft in Good Woman of Setzuan, a Royal Court production that played Oxford, with "three or four poet friends." He and his friends found it "a boring, platitudinous piece, too decorative with a lot of bamboo. The music wasn't good enough; the voices weren't good enough," and Peggy Ashcroft was "too middle class."5 As Brecht's work gradually appeared in translation, McGrath did start to read it. For a while he only saw various English productions, which he thought were "travesties." At a dress rehearsal for The Hostage he discovered Joan Littlewood's work, which deeply im­ pressed him. "I got far more excited about Behan's work and Joan's work than about Brecht, but what I didn't know was, she was draw­ ing on Brecht."6 When the next Berliner Ensemble tour brought Ar­ turo Ui and Coriolanus, with Helene Weigel, to England, McGrath saw the productions and realized: "This was a very big, very major theat­ rical creation, of which the imitations were travesties, and it was only Joan who got through to some of what Brecht was about."7 McGrath, however, makes an important distinction between Lit­ tlewood's theater practice and Brecht's, which also applies to his own, "between the use Joan made of Brecht's ideas and the tradition Joan was working in, which was a British popular theatre tradition different than Brecht's."8 While Brecht used the cabaret, or cafe, cul­ ture of Germany combined with some regional folk traditions from Bavaria, or source material taken from oral as well as written tradi­ tions,9 Littlewood used music hall and variety show forms, British seaside entertainment, and panto. McGrath himself borrows from these forms, in fact theorizes them, and also relies heavily on musical forms, whether folk or popular. His very successful play The Cheviot,


After Brecht

the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil (1973), was an adaptation of the Scottish ceilidh.10 McGrath may create work that is particularly British in its popu­ lar base because he shares with Brecht (as did Littlewood, for that matter) an interest in popular forms that are not bourgeois forms and because they provide a rich tradition from which to develop new material. They also address the audience of workers and plain folk rather than the middle class. Brecht wrote: "Popular" means intelligible to the broad masses, taking over their own forms of expression and enriching them/adopting and consolidating their standpoint/representing the most progressive section of the people in such a way that it can take over the leadership: thus intelligible to other sections too/linking with tra­ dition and carrying it further/handing on the achievements of the section now leading to the section of the people that is struggling for the lead."11 This description of popular culture's means of operation fits hand in glove with McGrath's theatrical strategies over the past twenty years. Not all of Brecht's ideas, however, seem to McGrath to be sound.12 He is particularly put off by Brecht's notion of pedagogics and what McGrath feels is Brecht's penchant for talking down to an audience. He mentions this unacceptable trait in A Good Night Out and returned to this point when I interviewed him: "I always thought Brecht was speaking from a position of superior knowledge. My gen­ eration has been very much affected by R. D. Laing and Sartre to see that nobody is in a position of ultimate knowledge or superiority, and nobody is able to speak down to an audience.13 I do feel distanced by Brecht—not by his alienation process—but by his own sense of superiority where he places himself above the problem and dictates to an audience what they should think.14 I resent that; I don't like it."15 On the other hand, he praises Brecht for being willing to put out information in a direct and sometimes complicated fashion, as­ suming that the audience will comprehend it. As this is one of two major emphases McGrath places on Brecht's work, it is worth quoting at length:

John McGrath


The important thing to me about Brecht was that he was un­ ashamedly intellectual (in a way George Bernard Shaw covers up his intellect with comedy and apology). Brecht was able to stand there and have actors stand there and make very serious ideological statements. The audience would listen because that is another mode of communication which is possible in theatre. I use a great deal of direct statement of information and opinion without apologizing or trying to cover it up .16 One of the points that McGrath makes in A Good Night Out is that, if an audience can see the usefulness of knowing or understand­ ing something being presented, it will grasp even very complicated material. In Cheviot long sections of historical record are read out, and in Lay Off (1975) an actor explains the history of rationalization of industry with government support. McGrath describes how a perfor­ mance of The Game's a Bogey (1974) gradually captured the interest of a miners' club in Glenrothes, where it first seemed that the audience would prefer to drink and forget the entertainment. Eventually, the hall became silent and interested in this play about John Maclean, an early Scottish Marxist economist and activist. The attempt to juxta­ pose different moments in time in order to historicize the incidents is clearly Brechtian, and also complicated: "In some ways that is quite a sophisticated operation, theatrically coping with switches from 1907 to 1973 and then back to 1913, and so forth; historically sophisticated in coping with two periods not in parallel but in ironical distanciation, and politically sophisticated in relating Maclean's words to their his­ torical context, but pointing them, by way of their defeat at that time, through to the consequences of their non-fulfilment today"17 (a pretty good explanation of historicization and how it works). The reason that the miners' club and many other working-class venues re­ sponded to this play and others is, according to McGrath, because the company demonstrates class solidarity with the audience, speak­ ing its members' language and using the theater in a new and yet simultaneously familar way. The other major importance of Brecht for McGrath is the example of formal experimentation. While not wanting to imitate Brecht's form, his work constitutes an example of the need for creating a new one outside of bourgeois discourse. "Here was somebody who had a


After Brecht

totally different way of looking at life, as a kind of scientific Marxist, who didn't simply, like George Bernard Shaw, insert Fabianism into Ibsen, didn't insert it into any form but actually demolished estab­ lished theater forms and started again. The fact that he had done that was such a challenge. . .. Joan Littlewood is equally important in that respect, and to some extent Sam Beckett."18 While it is perhaps easier to see the legacy of Brecht and Littlewood in McGrath's work than that of Beckett, part of McGrath's concern with poetry and lan­ guage and his own Irish heritage may complete the associations. Of all the playwrights discussed in this book McGrath is the one who most nearly approaches Brecht in his concern with the element of music in dramatic production. All the other writers use it—Edward Bond especially comes to mind—but not to the extent or with the centrality of McGrath. Because he recognizes music as one of the most important and vital elements in working-class culture, his plays have all had a component of music, very often specially written for the particular shows and embodying past folk and regional musical forms. Cheviot, for example, included acoustic and electronic music, Irish and Scottish folk songs (some sung in Celtic), and familar tunes with new topical lyrics. In addition, McGrath believes in the power of popular music and has written several shows using a rock music format such as Soft or a Girl? (1989) and Fish in the Sea (1975). Some­ times these songs support certain scenes, sometimes they comment on or distance the scenes. Sometimes they move the narrative, as in Border Warfare (1989), in which important historical information pro­ vides transitions. McGrath is especially appreciative of the BrechtWeill collaboration: "In the music of [Kurt] Weill—perhaps more than anywhere in the theatre—has my thesis of the potential development of a more mature, richer, more confident culture springing from and related to popular forms of entertainment, been exemplified."19 Unlike Brecht, however, the music does not always work dialec­ tically within other elements of the mise-en-scene. Sometimes music simply enhances or accompanies a scene in a traditional way. Whether writing a ballad, like "Loving is Dangerous," or a hard-sell message like "A boss, a boss, who'd ever trust a boss?"—both from Fish in the Sea—McGrath attempts to make use of the viable aspects of popular musical forms for serious and political ends. McGrath's formulation of theater includes a necessary relation­ ship to politics, a relationship, however, that is always changing.

John McGrath


"Theatre launches even the most private thought into a public world, and gives it a social, historical meaning and context as it passes through the eyes and minds of the audience. It is a place of recogni­ tion, of evaluation, of judgment. It shows the interaction of human beings and social forces. How could it remove itself from other public acts of recognition, evaluation and judgement known as politics?"20 McGrath also stresses the immediacy and vitality of the relationship between the audience and actors as part of the public nature of a theatrical event, different from other forms like poetry, novel, or even cinema in the feedback loop of the communicative model. Live per­ formance situates real individual experience within a context of pub­ lic concern. "The theatre is the one medium that forces, by its very limitations, that confrontation between an abstraction and a person, between a system and a group of individual people, between social history, or political theory, and the actual life of a man or a woman."21 Theater becomes the consummate political art, in his view, whether progressive or reactionary, because it tests out images of reality, relying on social consensus to validate or repudiate those images. In A Good Night Out John McGrath theorizes the difference be­ tween bourgeois and working-class audiences in nine major areas.22 A working-class audience prefers directness or clarity to the ambigu­ ity often admired in the bourgeois theater. Working-class audiences prefer vigorous comedy, enjoy jokes and free laughter, and don't confuse comedy with a lack of seriousness. As for music, workingclass audiences like the expressiveness of music for its own sake but, unlike middle-class theatergoers, do not see "the presence of music generally as a threat to the seriousness." Reminding us of the histori­ cal and cultural meaning of human emotion, McGrath observes, "A working-class audience is more open to emotion on the stage than a middle-class audience who gets embarrassed by it." Another contrast is the preference for variety in preference to the three-act structure of Ibsen and Shaw. Working-class audiences expect moment-to-moment effect—what might be called dramatic movement—while bour­ geois audiences will wait for a slow buildup to a big scene or the denouement. Working-class audiences want the subject matter to be close to their lives, while a middle-class audience prefers "paradigms or elaborate images to immediacy." A strong sense of localism is present in working-class audiences, as opposed to a more interna­


After Brecht

tional, albeit interchangeable, bourgeois sense. Finally, localism also means an emphasis on a direct relationship with a performer and her or his attitudes, as opposed to a more remote relationship between a middle-class audience and its stars. This summary is cursory but at least gives an indication of some of the qualities that John McGrath identifies in the popular culture of his target audience. From the 1990s this contrast may seem to overly privilege class differences while homogenizing regional, gen­ der, and ethnic differences. McGrath wrote A Good Night Out in 1981, however, and his own work has consistently shown sensitivity to gender, a commitment to internationalism, and a critique of colonial­ ism as well as an incredibly strong emphasis on regionalism.23 Fore­ grounding class is important because of the routine occlusion of class differences in most drama criticism, journalistic and academic, and the still-in-place if often unspoken and unwritten assumptions that bourgeois culture is classless and speaks for everybody. While many of McGrath's popular characteristics are obviously compatible with Brechtian aesthetics, one major feature stands out as being different. I am, of course, referring to the emphasis on emotion and its positive value. In discussing working-class openness to emotional expression, McGrath supplies one reason why Brecht's distrust of emotion so often translates into a boring evening in the bourgeois theater. It seems possible that in the last few decades the­ ater practioners in the middle-class British theater (and avant-garde American theater, for that matter) have interpreted Brecht as compat­ ible with their own dislike for emotional display. The historical speci­ ficity of Brecht's attack on high German emotionalism is well-known, and the many times that Brecht has revised or at the very least re­ stated his views on emotion should contextualize the whole prob­ lem .24 Yet it is useful to examine how McGrath employs what is here called "emotion." Usually, it is used to set up a subject position, represented by a character, which is part of the sociocultural land­ scape under discussion in the plays. The character's contradictions are displayed under the stress of the dramatic situation. Fish in the Sea, for example, achieves its force from the struggle of the young people to find significant and meaningful lives as adults. One of the daughters, Sandra, is planning to get married, just at the time a strike

John McGrath


is called at her father's and future husband's plant. The kind of wed­ ding she wanted includes church, cars, and a reception, as well as someplace to live afterward. The strike prohibits all of that. Her atti­ tude is understandably mixed: "It's all very well you going on about overthrowing capitalism,. . . but I've got to get married."25 McGrath has written "Sandra's Song" to express her inner identification with the trappings of commodity marriage in her desire for personal hap­ piness: For since she was a girl in pigtails They told her that this was her day: Her magazines, her picture-shows, her horoscopes All told her: They can't take this away And she knows very well that as time goes by, She'll need to have something to remember: For May's not important in June or July— But it shines very bright in November— So she wants her white wedding and She wants her right wedding-ring And all of the nuptial joy she can get Bridesmaids and wedding-cars Honeymoons with cocktail-bars, And a set of wedding-photographs so she won't forget. (50) The song is sympathetic; it constructs her point of view—it also makes clear the cultural sources of the images she endows with the ability to give her those memories (magazines, movies, horoscopes) but the basic tone is not critical, although this does not mean unanalytical. The song stands as a kind of commentary on the previous family dispute and is contextualized by the discussion of the strike and leftist strategies that follows, but it does not have, in intent or effect, anything like Brecht's notion of distanciation. Neither does it, however, promote simple unreflective empathy either. One of the emerging contributions of contemporary British playwrights to an elaboration of political aesthetics is the expansion of the concept of alienation, requiring it to be more elastic than Brecht's original formu­

i8 6

After Brecht

lation and to include a series of related theatrical practices that are not identical with but are nevertheless related to Brecht's original theories. This stretching has been seen in almost every chapter of this book, taking different forms in the work of, for example, David Hare, Edward Bond, and Caryl Churchill. In the conclusion I take up this phenomenon in more detail. John McGrath started writing plays in his third year at univer­ sity, in 1958. A Man Has Two Fathers was put on at Oxford, seen by Kenneth Tynan and written up in the Observer. As a result, George Devine invited him to a workshop at the Royal Court. Two plays, The Tent and Tell Me, were written using the improvisational techniques of the workshop.26 In the early 1960s McGrath worked in television, including a particular police series called Z Cars—more about the people's lives than about the police officers. Something McGrath says about directing that series is very similar to comments made by both David Hare and William Gaskill: "What I was trying to do with Z Cars was to use the cameras in such a way that you never did any­ thing, never moved a camera, unless it was to file a new piece of information. No actor ever used a gesture or a line unless it was a new, fresh piece of information."27 During the 1960s McGrath also worked on writing films. He eventually drew back from this involve­ ment and turned more fully to theater: "I finally came to the conclu­ sion that the mass media, at the moment, are so penetrated by the ruling-class ideology, that to try to dedicate your whole life—as dis­ tinct from occasional forays and skirmishes—to fighting them is go­ ing to drive you mad."28 The period of film work eventually financed the beginnings of his company, 7:84. In the early 1970s he also worked at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, which was the area of his childhood (inter­ rupted by the bombings during the war years). He wrote several plays for Everyman, including Soft or a Girl? and Fish in the Sea. This period, 1971-73, was the time during which the company, 7:84, was forming as well. During those years McGrath adapted The Caucasian Chalk Circle for Everyman and produced Trevor Griffiths's Occupa­ tions, John Arden and Margaretta D'Arcy's The Ballygombeen Bequest, and an adaptation of Sergeant Musgrave's Dance called Sergeant Musgrave Dances On—all for the new 7:84 season of 1972. The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil came in 1973 and was the occasion for starting the Scotland branch of the company.

John McGrath


7:84 refers to seven percent of the population of Great Britain owning 84 percent of the capital wealth.29 The name of the company thus immediately announced the political concerns of its founders and of the material produced. McGrath writes, "The company op­ poses this set-up, and tries to present in its work a socialist perspec­ tive on our society, and to indicate socialist alternatives to the capital­ ist system that dominates all our lives today."30 From the beginning the company toured to small towns and art centers and community centers. The work has moved into workers' clubs, trade union halls, dance halls, and other comparable venues. The goal of playing the­ ater for local, working-class audiences outside the dominant theatri­ cal mainstream was reached and preserved throughout the com­ pany's history. McGrath is especially firm about the impossibility of working in the subsidized theaters such as the National or the RSC without falling under the sway of the dominant ideology. His argument is sophisticated and compelling. First, there is the matter of the differ­ ent theatrical values of the middle-class audiences as contrasted to working-class audiences. McGrath is fully aware of the effect of audi­ ences in creating the meaning of the Theater Event, in fact quipping: "The great classic academic mistake is simply to read the script! (The script is nothing, it does not exist—the event exists)."31 In A Good Night Out McGrath discusses the various elements that contribute to the meaning of a given performance beyond the script, including the location and nature of the venue, the ticket prices, the nature and placing of publicity, the nature of the target audience—not to men­ tion the matters of mise-en-scene, casting, design element, and mu­ sic. In short, McGrath has a semiotic analysis of the different sign systems of the theater in the production of any aesthetic meaning that is fundamentally political.32 As for theater history, here, too, McGrath has an alternative account of the years of the Royal Court and working-class drama, pointing out that the young writers of that time were as much assimilated into the bourgeois theater as present­ ing their own culture in it. In fact, a new hegemony was forming in which "the middle classes in the 50s and 60s absorbed and penetrated the bright young working-class youth, thrown up by the 1944 Educa­ tion Act in appreciably large numbers, and. . . lo! after a short while, we were them ."33 In short, McGrath has a socialist analysis of the power of the dominant capitalist culture to absorb its challengers by

i8 8

After Brecht

simply expanding and modulating the product without in any way changing the fundamental power structure. McGrath thinks that one of the ways in which the bourgeois theater manages to "recover lost ground with writers and actors" is to insist on involving them in the forms of realism and naturalism. This involves "the presentation of liberal philosophy based on rounded characters—plays in which you see all sides of the issues, plays in which the baddies are as deeply felt and as good as the goodies. In these plays, the usual issue is not whether a certain class or an individual has behaved in the right way or not, but rather whether the audience is capable of understanding all these wrong things." While any elements of class conflict or historical dialectic are not necessarily lost, they are "moved to the background as inter­ esting speculations and foregrounded is the problem of the individ­ ual."34 McGrath feels that many of his friends and associates have become involved in this procedure over the years, although he ex­ empts Trevor Griffiths, who, he feels, "has a very rigorous attitude toward his work and always knows exactly what he's doing." Ed­ ward Bond describes the bourgeois theater in a similar way when he says that the actors always want to show that the characters have good souls.35 McGrath's work is not well known in the United States, as might be expected from a dramaturgy that is deliberately not part of the international ready-to-export theater mart.36 In the United States, in which not much is known about political theater at all, his work is familiar only to those few, often in universities, who study the British alternative theater tradition.37 Scripts are difficult to locate, too, some published by Methuen, some by Pluto, some by 7:84 Scotland, and some not at all. My temptation is to want to describe as many of the plays as possible, but, due to the nature of this chapter, it makes more sense to single out several for fuller examination. Fish in the Sea and The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil represent two different narrative styles, yet the two plays were produced within a year of each other. In fact, McGrath has acknowledged them as two forms, one providing a developing situation involving personal events in a larger structural whole, the other a chronicle play, in Brecht's sense, in which history is the protagonist and shapes the narrative.38 They give a good indication of the kind of material 7:84 produces. Border Warfare is a recent play, representing McGrath's

John McGrath


work beyond 7:84, and illustrates the continuing presence of a politi­ cal aesthetic related to, yet developing beyond, Brecht. Fish in the Sea Fish in the Sea was written in late 1972 for the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. During 1971-72 John McGrath worked with Allan Dossor on a number of projects and brought the first 7:84 productions to play there (Trees in the Wind, Plugged into History, and Underneath and Griffiths's Occupations). Because McGrath was born on Merseyside, he wanted to write some plays for its people, and he also saw the possibility of developing a large popular audience for working-class theater in Liverpool. He and Dossor succeeded in turning the audience size from 30 percent to full houses.39 In 1975, 7:84 England revived Fish in the Sea. McGrath rewrote sections of the play and added some new songs.40 Under Pam Brighton's direction it opened at the Half Moon, London, then toured extensively in England and Wales. Al­ ways sensitive to the historical context of production, McGrath writes in 1977: "I would not recommend any further 'up-dating' for subse­ quent productions: conditions have changed, and the nature of certain details of working-class struggle ha[ve] changed. The situation in general remains the same."41 History has continued to overtake the conditions of the play: two more terms of Thatcherism, the exhausting miners' strike of 1984-85 and other union busting, combined with the widening schism between north and south and what Stuart Hall calls the "new hegemony," make for a different historical context than the intended backdrop of this play, when the trade union constituency was still solid. On a positive front the historical development of the women's movement during the last ten years also makes the repre­ sentations of gender in the play insufficiently "distanced." Immediacy was one of McGrath's original goals for the piece: that it should appeal to young people and deal with events in their lives—this was part of building the Liverpool constituency for the Everyman. Aiming at representing the contradictions facing their lives in working-class Liverpool, McGrath had a list of important topics: The main elements I wanted to set in some form of dialectical motion were—the need for militant organisation by the working


After Brecht class; the anarchistic, anti-organisational violence of the frus­ trated working-class individual in search of self-fulfilment here and now; the backwardness of some elements of working-class living: attitudes to women, to socialist theory, to sexual oppres­ sion, poetry, myth, etc.; the connections between this backward­ ness and Christianity; the shallow optimism of the demagogic left, self-appointed leaders of the working class; and the intimate realities of growing up and living in a working-class home on Merseyside."42

Although the program sounds quite abstract and inclusive, the resulting play is built around the concrete lives of two families and other friends and associates in contemporary Liverpool. It is, in many ways, a domestic drama—McGrath at his least Brechtian. The main family, the Maconochies, has a whole series of contradictions boiling around its center, most of which McGrath represents through the subject positions of the characters. The father is a staunch old social­ ist and solid patriarch—"All my life I've hated three things: bosses, onions and policemen" (26)—who has always been active in his union and who goes to the pub for one hour every night, where he drinks two brown ales before coming home. His son, Derek, how­ ever, has no patience with his dad's way of life and becomes a police­ man who is sent to Ireland, effectively leaving the family. He de­ scribes his attitude toward his job: "Me? I just carry out orders. I don't question them. If I carry them out to the best of my ability, I get looked after, that's the way it is in this life" (72). There are also three daughters, struggling with adolescence and their futures. While Fiona is good in school, she is unsettled in her personal relationships and ends up taking sleeping pills to cope with her unresolved feel­ ings. Sandra wants a traditional marriage and family life and views the problems at the plant in terms of their effect on her personal happiness. Mary has a dark side, a troubled side, and becomes in­ volved with a very disturbing boy named Andy, who has a commit­ ment to revolt and violence but no commitment to any sustained struggle or meaning. Mrs. Maconochie is a traditional mum, trying to mediate the family squabbles and to get a little back for herself, "Haven't you got anymore to say than 'Food, woman'?" (13). The second family establishes a kind of counterpoint to the Ma­ conochies. The Griffiths family consists of Reverend Griffiths of the

John McGrath


Tuebrook Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, his son, Yorry, and his brother, Dafydd. While Reverend Griffiths is a stern, puritanical class snob, his brother is an anti-Christian, a bit of a drinker, and a lover of Welsh folklore and myth. The boy, Yorry, has been brought up in special schools and sent to university to keep him out of the working class and make him as straight-arrow as possible. His development from basic "nerd" to wanna-be revolutionary to committed adult parallels the change in the household from his father's influence to his uncle's (his father dies midway through the play). The strike at Robertson's Engineering Works serves as the major catalyst for the play. The plant is being sold to Consolidated Metals of America, and the strike is a preemptive attempt to improve wages while there still might be some leverage. "Consolidated Metals owns tin-mines in Bolivia, steel-works in Venezuela. Compared with what they pay out there, they'll reckon we're on the gravy train. And if we cause trouble, bang, closed, like Courtaulds" (31). So, Mr. Maconochie and Sandra's boyfriend, later husband, Willie, go out on strike, forming part of the strike leadership and occupying the plant. Yorry, who has left the university, puts out a daily paper covering the strike. Willie and Sandra do get married, although their wedding takes place at the Registry Office, they go by taxi, and the reception is at the Legs of Man. Lest this begin to sound like a "happy tractor driver" sort of socialist tract in which the strikers win and everybody lives happily ever after, McGrath is much too sophisticated for that. The strike fails—that is, they are eventually given some concessions, but these are timed with a wage freeze, so the workers get nothing. Willie and Mr. Maconochie are sacked, and, eventually, the plant is closed. We will return to the question of whether or not there is something positive indicated about social change. Yorry and Andy make two especially vivid characterizations. Yorry represents the well-intentioned middle-class intellectual who operates initially only at the level of theory and then manages to find an actual way to join the working class by living and struggling with its members. He is drawn by McGrath with sympathy and humor— for his naïveté, his romanticism, and his ability to change. Singing under Mary's window (he has loved her since boyhood), he emerges from the bushes covered in shit in a farcical scene involving darkness, three sets of bushes and gates, and three amorous couples, including Mary with another boy (Andy). Yorry has direct-address moments


After Brecht

with the audience and is given the ability to see and critique his own excesses. After a short speech as a student ending with the slogan Power to the People, Yorry tells the audience, "After a childhood and youth spent in mortal terror of a worker so much as knocking on the door, I had suddenly clutched their cause to my bosom with all the fervour of Hercules holding up the sky on his back while Atlas went off to do the dirty work for him" (32). McGrath manages to criticize abstract intellectual leftism and also to suggest how the intelligentsia can be of actual practical use in political struggle. Andy is not so recuperable, unfortunately, but McGrath has drawn his character, too, with a certain amount of sympathy, or at least complexity. He and Mary are linked by some shared sense of horror, imaged in their nightmares. While Mary struggles against her images, Andy lashes out: "(Pounds his head.) Can't keep it all there, Ha? Does you no good. Fight 'em. Make 'em take it, stick it on them. Spread it out, amongst the population, you know. Population gives it you, right? Give it back, yeh?" (19). Andy is one of the workingclass men who go to football games to get violent (this in the early 1970s before the international violence of the 1980s in Amsterdam and Germany). He eventually goes to Ireland, where he takes part in professional violence as a hired killer. He returns, sickened by his own acts and on the run (Derek has apparently been sent to track him down). There is a showdown at Yorry's house, some heroics on Yorry's part, and Andy leaves without Mary, still refusing to change: "Never. No sense. Never" (81). Mary does not simply fall into Yorry's arms, however. The contradictions of the text are not resolved, not even the romantic ones. Mary tells Yorry what she really wants is to have a baby, but on her own. Yorry wants her to "stay." The implica­ tion is that they might try to be together, but, then again, they might not. In any event, Mary is not "in love" with him, although she does care for him. All of these characters are psychologically believable. The planned spectator response is sympathy and even identification. The desired experience is an insider's understanding, which is why the play is less Brechtian than "popular." To return to the question of the ending, there is something posi­ tive in the play, although it is not represented in terms of "out­ comes." A way of life suggested in the play is based on solidarity and community struggle, which may not win all the battles but which

John McGrath


creates a stronger, more vital working class, which might be able to win the next time. Although dramaturgically it is not anything like a denouement, the event that most strongly affirms this reading of the play is the opening of the Griffiths's house. The Ebenezer Baptist duplicating machine turned out Yorry's paper, the Youth Club got a disco, and Dafydd started a bar. Yorry asks Sandra, Willie, and the new baby to move into the house with him and Dafydd. The sense of extended family, of communal struggle, is what the strike action produces. It unites the two families—one could even say across class lines—and provides a way of living, if not tidy closure. Looking over McGrath's list of working-class elements, the play is especially strong on immediacy, comedy, emotion, and, of course, music. In spite of the emotion, however, a good deal of critique also takes place. Describing the style, McGrath writes in the play script: "The style is neither 'epic' nor naturalistic. The actors must create real characters, but be prepared to express that reality in a variety of ways, sustaining throughout the play a relationship between their characters and the audience by way of their own personal stage per­ sonae" (1). This is the classic Brechtian relationship between actors, characters, and audience, and in McGrath's work it is possible along­ side or combined with poignancy and other emotions. The Cheviot the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil If Fish in the Sea uses some conventions of realistic plot and character in a narrative that is not quite epic in style, The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil is completely epic—perhaps including more formal ideas compatible with Brecht than any other McGrath play. It is a history play in the fullest sense, portraying "attitudes which people adopt toward one another, wherever they are socio-historically sig­ nificant . . . work[ing] out scenes where people adopt attitudes of such a sort that the social laws under which they are acting spring into sight."43 The play also achieves the definition of popular theater that McGrath seeks, both because of its form and because of its pro­ duction history—"one hundred shows, over 30,000 people, and 17,000 miles,"44 not including the immensely successful BBC televi­ sion version. The play shows three instances of historical crisis in the Scottish Highlands, when people were sacrificed to profit. The first "Clear­

After Brecht


ances" happen because of sheep (the Cheviots), the second because of deer, and the third because of North Sea oil. The Cheviots were introduced into the Highlands around 1813, which is the first period represented. While previously the Highlands brought in about 200,000 pounds from lean cattle and small change in rents from the "crofters," the Cheviots would bring in 900,000 pounds from their wool. This money accrued to those who owned and controlled the land, the rich and titled, particularly the countess of Sutherland. Four of the five top lairds owning large acreages of land in 1872-73 still retained large holdings in 1973.45 So, the Cheviots were brought in, and the people were thrown out of their houses and "relocated" to the seacoast or forced to emigrate. Sheriffs burned people out and beat them up when they refused to leave, which many did, putting up a stout resistance, especially the women, recounted directly by the company reading from historical texts: When the Sheriff and his men arrived, the women were on the road and the men behind the walls. The women shouted, "Better to die here than America or the Cape of Good Hope." The first blow was struck by a woman with a stick. The gentry leant out of their saddles and beat at the women's heads with their crops." (11 )

After the Clearances for sheep other uses were found for the land. The gentry discovered hunting in the Highlands as a favored sport. Later on developers discovered tourist sights provided a lucra­ tive business. And, finally, there was North Sea offshore oil, which American money and control exploits. Any possible employment ad­ vantages evaporate between the new high prices due to speculation and development and the actual situation: When it comes to the jobs all the big boys are American. All the technicians are American. Only about half the riggers are local. The American companies'll not take Union men, and some of the fellows recruiting for the Union have been beaten up. The fel­ lows who get taken on as roustabouts are on a contract; 84 hours a week in 12 hour shifts, two weeks on and one week off. They have to do overtime when they're tell't. No accommodation, no

John McGrath


leave, no sick-pay, and the company can sack them whenever they want. And all that for 27.00 a week basic before tax. It's not what I'd cry a steady job for a family man." (64-65) In representing the sweep of history, the play is able to show how capital investment and expansion have continuously meant suf­ fering and hardship for the people of the Highlands, while the land­ owners and large capital holders have prospered. The play, however, also does another important job: it documents the many instances of resistance by people at various junctures, whether in the form of opposing the clearances or in the form of refusing to serve in the army for the Crimean War. (Only three battalions out of thirty-three sent to Crimea were Highland.) The challenge of the play was to bring an extensive amount of information to the audience in a creative and entertaining way. The form of the play was taken from the ceilidh, a Gaelic tradition of community gathering in which everybody does something for the others—sings a song, makes a speech, or plays an instrument, often ending in a dance. This, then, proved a very useful format for the purposes of telling the history of the Highlands to the people within a familiar cultural form. The play adapts Brecht for use with indige­ nous performance. The company worked collectively on the research and ideas for the show, and McGrath scripted and directed it .46 The structural units of the play are scenes, songs, readings from actual historical documents, or company recitation of statistics, po­ ems, character monologues, and direct address to the audience. Sometimes the scenes are send-ups of the gentry, such as the highly comic hunting scene with Lady Phosphate and Lord Crask singing: Oh it's awfully, frightfullyly, ni-i-ice, Shooting stags, my dear, and grice— And there's nothing quite so righ-it-it As a fortnight catching trite: And if the locals should complain, Well we can clear them off again. (41) Sometimes the scenes poke fun at the Highlanders themselves, as when a crofter and his wife, now running a bed and breakfast, put


After Brecht

on a sham Highland act for the approaching guests: "Put off that television and hunt for Jimmy Shand on the wireless. Oh God, there's the Marvel milk out on the table, and I told them we had our own cows" (70). Some of the songs and occasional lines of dialogue are in Gaelic. After a song has been started in Gaelic and the comment made that not many people understand it, the company explains why: M.C. 1: In the 18th century speaking the Gaelic language was forbidden by law. M.C. 2: In the 19th century children caught speaking Gaelic in the playground were flogged. M.C. 1: In the 20th century the children were taught to deride their own language. Because English is the language of the ruling class. Because English is the language of the people who own the highlands and control the highlands and invest in the high­ lands. (52) Each of the scenes is a discrete unit: it stands alone in the Brechtian sense of having a social gestus and being a complete unit of informa­ tion, but the flow of events is continuous through many different parts of the play. When a time shift occurs an M.C. (master of cere­ monies) simply announces the new situation, "Isle of Skye, 1882." Another device to move the play along was the ingenious design—an oversized pop-up book. The "pages" would turn, revealing a cottage, mountains, or a Native American setting (for the scene in Canada). Combined with strong, theatrical lighting changes and the punctua­ tion of the drum and other instruments, the design for the play con­ tributed to its clarity and simplicity. Audience participation is built into the script. Certain songs are sing-alongs. Constant direct address keeps the relationship between performers and audience tangible. In the Canadian scene in which Scottish settlers are in danger from attack, the audience is enlisted to warn the settlers of the approach of Indians. Finally, these perfor­ mances always end with a dance, the company forming the band, playing traditional and rock music for the community's pleasure. This audience participation took on a new dimension in the tele­

John McGrath


vision version of the play. While designed specially for TV, it was also a televised live performance. The audience participation became part of the show—another documentary aspect of it. The television audience watched the story of the Highlands including the present­ time story of Highlanders reacting to and thinking about their situ­ ation. McGrath cites this feature as deliberately Brechtian: "I saw the use of the stage play as a wonderful alienating device, in the Brecht­ ian sense, for television. I very, very consciously exploited it as such and wrote it shot for shot. The audience is part of the drama today but also part of history, part of the community."47 In describing his company's work, John McGrath often stresses the importance of the relationship between the audiences and the company, built up over repeated visits, personal contact, and mutual respect. In A Good Night Out he comments on the advantage of this kind of connection to the audience for a company that wants to develop a socialist criticism of the audience from a position of political solidarity. About a play called Out of Our Heads, which toured Scotland dealing with drinking and its relationship to sexist attitudes, physical abuse, and political passivity, McGrath writes: "And what was perhaps most important, the audience was familiar with us, as a company, and with what we stood for. .. . The audiences for that show were larger than for any previous show ."48 The strong word-of-mouth reputations that lead to repeated tours are their own kind of antiestablishment publicity, involving the audience with the fate of the theater troupe, even as 7:84 has involved itself in the political struggles of its supporters. Border Warfare The continuity of the relationship between audiences and company, so apparent in The Cheviot, also structures McGrath's epic history of the relationship between England and Scotland, Border Warfare. Like Cheviot, the script has been televised using a live theatrical produc­ tion at the Tramway Theatre Glasgow as its setting. Like Cheviot, it is a history play that interweaves music and various popular tradi­ tions, including a highly symbolic soccer game played in the final minutes. Originally, Border Warfare was proposed for 7:84 for production in 1988 as part of the group's concerted effort to keep Scotland Arts Council (SAC) money. After McGrath resigned the new management


After Brecht

under David Hayman refused the project. Finally, the production was financed by Freeway and Wildcat and was first produced at the Old Museum of Transport in Glasgow (now the Tramway)49 in Febru­ ary 1989. The television production consisted of three episodes on the BBC's Channel Four. The production style of Border Warfare seems to offer conscious tribute to two directors whom McGrath admires: Ari­ ane Mnouchkine and Ronconi, the Italian director of Teatro Libero. Staged in a promenade fashion like 1789, the audience is expected to move around to see the scenes of Border Warfare, and like the audi­ ence of 1789, to feel a sense of community with people from a past time. Like Ronconi's Orlando Furioso, which McGrath saw in Ed­ inburgh in 1969 and which he considered a seminal experience, he and designer Pamela Howard staged Border Warfare with the use of "floats," platforms on wheels pushed by actors, bringing on tableau and shifting the space (and the audience in the process).50 One de­ vice, in particular, deserves mention: hobby horse-style horses made an impressive appearance for such scenes as the arrival of the English aristocracy into Scotland to become Scotland's aristocracy. Engi­ neered to move on small wheels and to be pushed by actors, they recall Gombrich's famous appeal to the hobby horse in order to ex­ plain artistic mimesis and John Fuegi's later use of the same material to explain Brechtian aesthetics.51 The play itself is a wide chronologi­ cal account of the political history of England and Scotland. Domestic affairs play no part in this drama, although occasionally a domestic detail will be added, such as Edward II's Queen Isabella watching Edward fawn on Gaveston and commenting ironically: The greatest idiot England ever saw— Your Gaveston is prisoner of the earls of England: Tomorrow he will die a hideous death: Go, my little droopy King: and may the Scots make mincemeat of you.52 The tone of the play is cool, ironic, alternately amused and angry at injustice. The reason for this stance is that the play does not overly romanticize the Scots of the past, especially the royalty and the aris­ tocracy. Thus while the English are seen as continually refusing to treat Scotland fairly and humanely, and while Scottish exploitation at the hands of the English is a major theme of the "story," Scottish

John McGrath


brutality and foolishness are also staged and contextualized. At one point, McGrath provides the following stage directions to accompany Robert the Bruce's abrupt murder of Comyn (Scottish competitor for the crown in the thirteenth century): "He [Robert the Bruce] goes over to where Comyn stands, and, in a violent gesture, runs him through with his sword, raises it triumphant. Immediately, deafen­ ing church bells ring out, ambivalent—neither joy for Robert nor sorrow for Comyn" (26). The politics of the play lie in the interpretation of events that enable contemporary audiences to see how history unfolded. In a fictional conversation between King Henry VIII and John Knox, for instance, McGrath underlines how Knox's religious zeal served En­ glish ends. Henry says he will "die a happier man" because Knox "will kill for the Lord" (47). This story is told through diverse theatrical means and broad characterization. The English kings are sometimes presented with humor. Charles I visits the Scottish Parliament in order to present a number of bills and decrees. He has no intention of listening to them, although he reads out the title of each and asks, "Any dissent?" When, however, an MP indicates some, Charles takes his name and tells him to sit down. As there are 168 such bills this as a comic procedure—until Balmerino refuses to be silent and presses his suit. Charles then arrests him on the spot, and the comedy turns black. An examination of the culminating scene in the second part rep­ resents the parliamentary debates over the Unification Treaty and reveals how McGrath's various dramaturgical devices work together to produce his popular style. A narrator prepares the audience for its role in this scene: Will ye see how it was done? Will ye see how Scotland's great men voted our parliament out of existence? Ye will? Right, well you can join in the parliament yourselves, just to see what it felt like—and at the end of it all, you'll get to vote as well! (77) She then asks the audience to help set up the playing space for the scene by erecting the three-tier Parliament benches. During this change a ballad singer makes the historical transition by reminding the audience in song of previous patriotic men from earlier in the play/chronicle who gave their lives for Scotland's independence.


After Brecht

The focus of the storytelling is on the reasons why Scottish MPs voted for unification. An Edinburgh clerk named Alisdair reveals that Scottish lords were bribed with moneys passed off as back pay and pensions from the English treasury to members of Parliament. As the pro and con speeches are delivered, it is clear that merchants fearful of losing trade advantages preferred to join Great Britain in order to further their business interests. When the vote comes, 110 approve, 69 disapprove, and 41 abstain. Great noise "outside" the chamber indicates the many people whose will is not represented in the vote. As the act comes to a close, the narrator brings the members of the audience to the point of their own action: How would you have voted, if you'd been there—and assuming anybody even asked you? All those voting for the Union, leave by the Ayes—this door here All those against—through this door here. And there will be no Abstentions! And when you come back—we'll tell you how you voted—and show you what happened in the years to come. (96) Songs, direct address, openly theatrical staging, highly motivated audience participation—these features characterize a scene from Scottish history that provides political analysis of the past while it challenges those in the present to involve themselves in affairs of state. The experience surrounds and speaks to the audience, consti­ tuting its members as a community. This emphasis on constructing community solidarity builds most powerfully in the last part of the play. Paying tribute to the circus techniques of Jerome Savary and Circus Oz, which he admires, McGrath cites Bakhtin on the potential for resistance in carnival. As early as 1985, in his last production for 7:84 England, McGrath envi­ sioned "a traveling carnival of socialist politics and values." All the Fun of the Fair links early work like Cheviot with Border Warfare in the development of a particular theater aesthetic-cum-politics. In The Bone Won't Break, McGrath writes, "And it is to this general area of celebratory, public, all-inclusive theatre that maybe we should turn when we think of contesting, rather than trying to produce theatre that is political in the same way that bourgeois theatre is; instead of

John McGrath


Border Warfare, written and directed by John McGrath. Old Museum of Trans­ port, Glasgow, February 1989. Photograph by Alan Wylie.

saying different things with the same squeaky voice, perhaps we ought to be looking for a whole new vocal range" (134). The strategy of public celebration that brings people together and produces political energy determines the shape of the last act of Bor­ der Warfare. Conceived as "The Big Match" between the English and Scots, it stages the twentieth century as sporting contest. The entire playing area is the pitch, and audience members sit on benches to root for their team. Such historical luminaries as Ramsay MacDonald, Beatrice Webb, and Winston Churchill put in appearances to play for their side. A commentator calls the play by play in such a way that history and game intermix. For World War II, Nazi war music plays a time-out, while players don gas masks: 39 years gone, and the century is in a mess: a mob of German lager-louts have invaded the pitch in Czechoslovakia, and again in Poland—they have been banned from European football in­


After Brecht definitely, but they show no sign of stopping these invasions— This game is looking very strange now, as the two teams line up side by side, salute their royal personage, and set off side by side to do battle with the Bosch. But no—the Scottish left-winger Tom Johnson nips back while they are all looking the other way, moves the Scottish Office to Scotland, has the Scottish Grand Committee meeting in Scotland and founds the Hydro Board! Three quick goals there for Scotland, and as the whistle goes for half-time, it's 6-3 to England, with Scotland looking very danger­ ous. (134)

The actors mime the game without the ball, although the play achieves a striking mimesis to the real thing. Meanwhile, the parti­ sanship of the "fans" is constantly encouraged through music, sound effects, and crowd noises and cheers. The excitement builds until members of the crowd riot, leaping onto the pitch to smash the En­ glish goal posts and chase the English players off the field. The last scene, "Armageddon," then commences with the arrival of Margaret Thatcher riding on the Knoxmobile from John Knox's scene. Consid­ ering that Border Warfare was first produced toward the end of Thatcher's reign and just when her policies had severely crippled 7:84, there is the ambiguity of defeat and challenge in this finale. Wearing a grotesque full-head mask, she makes a terrible speech of threat to the assembled Scots, which warns, "And slowly but surely, bit by bit, I shall destroy your power to resist, silence any voice that speaks against me, and take away your individuality, your culture and your nationhood" (141). The play ends on the precarious edge of the knowledge of the threat-made-good and the necessity for fight­ ing back. Much like The Good Person of Setzuan, the ball passes to the audience and they must find a happy ending, they must, must, must!53 The play Border Warfare, however, demonstrates at least as much about the differences between Brechtian dramaturgy and McGrath's celebratory populism as it does about their similarities. Finally, much of McGrath's theater is not dialectical, at least not in a Brechtian way. The techniques that rely on contradiction and double-edged struc­ tures of meaning produce in Brecht the distance and lasting irony of

John McGrath


his style. McGrath sometimes uses irony but often is clear and single­ minded in his oratory. Emotion is useful in building consensus and community and an impulse to action. He has a clear authority for his texts, a combination of Marxist analysis and working-class cultural forms. Recalling Edward Bond's criticism of Brecht, that, although his methodology appears authorityless, it requires and actually rests on authority, we might say that Brecht masks the appeal to authority. Bond's choice is to move away from authority toward open texts; McGrath foregrounds it as a teleological goal of his practice. Both paths represent departures and extensions of Brechtian praxis. A Postcript on 7:84 In many ways it appears that the history of John McGrath and his work with 7:84 has come to an end. McGrath proposed Border Warfare to 7:84 as part of the group's 1988 response to funding cuts from the SAC. After McGrath resigned as artistic director, David Hayman turned it down. Jo Beddoe, general manager, explained to the board that the budget for the project was too high, although McGrath had obtained two-thirds of the needed money from channel 4, which would televise the play in three segments. 7:84 would have to come up with about 3,000 pounds.54 While 7:84 continued on through 1992, it did so without John McGrath, and the character of the company has been radically altered. Tom Maguire has recently written that, under the new management, 7:84 "became firmly located within a conventional theatre frame, indistinguishable from any number of other touring companies in its internal organization and out­ put. . . . While the new management team accepted that they were 'only making theatre,' such a frame marginalized the company from the role that it once played in bridging that conventional gap between theatre and politics."55 In 1993, 7:84 is again under new, very young management. Ian Reekie is the artistic director. The company is funded on a projectonly basis, and it is too soon to tell if the commitment to touring will continue to be possible. In the winter of 1992-93, the company was touring with The Lament for Arthur Cleary, a play by young Irish play­ wright Dermot Bolger. The generational change is clearly evident in this work.56

20 4

After Brecht

I feel no joy but also no hesitancy in proclaiming the end of an era of John McGrath's work. He will obviously go on to create other theater pieces: the success of Border Warfare already testifies to that, but the work will, after all, be different. McGrath describes the demise of 7:84 England in The Bone Won't Break, and both McGrath and MacLennan (in The Moon Belongs to Everyone) describe the painful process leading to McGrath's decision to resign from 7:84 Scotland. It is a narrative that illustrates the damage that the Thatcher arts policies have done to companies like Monstrous Regiment, Foco Novo, Joint Stock, and Red Ladder as well as 7:84. Sometimes cutbacks came for overtly political reasons; sometimes as a result of the policy of "Cen­ tres of Excellence" that took money away from small, local groups to further increase support for large regional theater centers. Sometimes the criticism of the English Arts Council and the SAC appealed to financial exigency, administrative efficiency, or dollar-for-value. These issues have been discussed in the introductory chapter.57 As an example of the complexity and subtleness of these policies, 7:84 England's experiences provide a model. (For many years a sec­ ond company operated in England until it went bankrupt.) In 1985, when I interviewed John McGrath, an account of the English com­ pany's work brought out the following illustrative narrative. The pre­ vious year the National Theatre had commissioned a play on the miners' strike, then in progress, called The Garden of England. The National then decided not to produce the play—perhaps the play was "too hot" politically? 7:84 England took the play and produced it successfully all over the north and west. In the fall of 1985, the strike having been settled, the National was producing it in the Cottesloe at the same time that the English branch of 7:84 was losing part of its grant from the Arts Council because of the allegedly poor quality of its work. As if trouble from enemies is not enough, Thatcher's policies of divide and conquer marked friends as well. McGrath and MacLennan both write of the difficulties of keeping a unified company outlook in a time of splintering on the Left. Part of the bankruptcy of 7:84 England had to do with a left-wing labor dispute within the company that positioned McGrath as management and attacked the Greater London Council (GLC), one of the last bastions of sympathy—and funding—for left-wing groups like 7:84. Of course, before the year was out the GLC itself was abolished in Thatcher's move against

John McGrath


municipal councils. The Scotland story is similarly frought with dis­ agreements among former comrades and general disarray. Elizabeth MacLennan's diaries and personal accounts of her life with John McGrath and their children over the 7:84 years is a remark­ able representation of precisely the popular socialist culture that McGrath has tried to tap in his work. The interweaving of work, family, and world concerns both chronicles the difficulties of succeed­ ing with a socialist theater such as 7:84 and reaffirms the possibilities of it. After all, 7:84 lasted twenty years, which in theatrical history is a long time. MacLennan's last diary entry for 1988 begins: The last three weeks of the year are clouded in horror. On one level I am preparing for Christmas, seeing Danny off, his bag packed with presents and fingers crossed, welcoming Finn home, cooking, clearing and polishing for the New Year, going to the zoo with Kate's class, worrying about where the money is coming from for Border Warfare. Will it come through in time, panic on the 12th, relief on the 15th when, just before Christmas, the Festival Unit agree to pay the £25,000 shortfall, just as John went to tell Channel 4 it wasn't going to happen. Now it will. Soon. Trips to the panto. Dan's farewell supper, Finn's birthday and Christmas. At the same time thousands of people are dead, mutilated, homeless, starving in Armenia. Then, as if that were not terrible enough, the Pan-Am crash at Lockerbie. Just down the road bodies are raining out of the sky and what is a personal tragedy for so many becomes a lasting terrible metaphor for all the destruction of human potential in 1988. (192) It's impossible not to catch the discouragement and angst in this account, but I do not include it here as an elegy for 7:84. Rather, it seems an example of the lived life of committed theater artists, ren­ dered in the language of everyday. It insists on an emotional re­ sponse and on community solidarity and on a global consciousness. It seems especially useful when "corrected" by evidence of continu­ ing productivity and artistic political resistance: McGrath's recent work, written and directed by him, is entitled Watching for Dolphins and stars Elizabeth MacLennan. It is, appropriately, about a crisis of faith.58

Conclusion May we not say then that imagination itself—through its utopian function—has a constitutive role in helping us rethink the nature of our social life? . . . Does not the fantasy of the alternative society and its exteriorization "nowhere" work as one of the most formi­ dable contestations of what is? —Paul Ricoeur How long Do works endure? As long As they are not completed. Since as long as they demand effort They do not decay. —Bertolt Brecht

It is tempting to say, "Well, yes, the Cold War is over and Thatcher­ ism has succeeded, so Brecht is obsolete for an interpretation of the British theater." A number of convenient factors support this view, tied neatly to the 1990 watershed: the demise of McGrath's connec­ tion to 7:84, the move beyond Brecht that is signaled in Edward Bond's recent work, the seemingly definitive change in the political temper and tone of David Hare's plays. Kimball King offers this as­ sessment: Many critics and theatre professionals have warned that both Brenton's Greenland and his collaboration with Hare, Pravda, would, for financial reasons, possibly be the last neo-Brechtian epic dramas on the London stage. The expense of using so many actors, props, and scene changes have emptied the coffers of the Royal Court, Barbican and the National Theatre.1 And yet, and yet. Caryl Churchill and Edward Bond have gone on to write epic plays with fewer people in the cast. Mad Forest and In the Company of Men have episodic structures that "show their knots," a well-developed social gestus for each scene, or unit, and a strong 207


After Brecht

critique of our "post-"world, anchored in a historical crisis point. After the Cold War came the first plays that tried to make sense of the revolutions of 1989: Mad Forest, but also Moscow Gold and Berlin Bertie, and, although not discussed here, David Edgar's The Shape of the Table. John McGrath couldn't do Border Warfare with 7:84, but it did get done—with a really large cast and some creative financing. Griffiths wrote Piano as a response to what he identifies as postmod­ ern malaise and responded to the Gulf war with a play that would have interested both Lukács and Brecht. I do not wish to say that nothing is changing in British political dramaturgy; in fact, the emphasis should be precisely on change as it reflects and produces a new social and cultural climate. But I do think that this book is necessarily unfinished—that is, not tidy, not conclusive. It is easy to dismiss socialism now, but, actually, while the rheto­ ric is dead, the possibility of its goals lingers as we attempt to refor­ mulate them. Not that they will be the same: history overtakes, after all, as Brecht is the first to tell us. It may have overtaken him in his absolute certainty, his scientism, his sexism, his appeal to authority, as Bond would have it. Yet both continuity and discontinuity have their appeal as interpretive principles. Because of a political commit­ ment to something resembling socialism, my argument here is for continuity, for remembering Brecht, for seeing epic as the operative British political theatrical form, for thinking that the 1970s and 1980s saw the development and elaboration of a specifically British version of Brechtian dramaturgy, moving beyond Brecht but enabled by his work and illuminated with reference to his theory and practice. Postmodernism is another matter. Brecht's theory and practice have undergone a great deal of reconsideration in light of postmod­ ernist and poststructuralist performance theory and practice. Yet a dilemma emerges that also confronts feminism when feminist theory becomes too closely intertwined with postmodernist theories: to the extent that Brecht is seen as a postmodern, his politics tend to drop out or face dilution. The focus is on formalist features of lack of closure, denial of unified subjectivity, pastiche, and montage. The tension in all these interpretations, however, is the loss of a specific radical politics, an advocacy drama, a focus on agency and political change. In the British theater postmodernism and poststructuralism have



had a generally dim reception. British theater has yet to spawn its Robert Wilson or Heiner Müller or Mabou Mines. Most drama is concerned with words more than images, or at least with images in support of rational arguments: it's a very rationalist discourse, even when antirationalist (a play like A Mouthful of Birds still manages to make linear sense and have a kind of argument for the audience to consider and evaluate).2 Bond writes his "Notes on Post-Modern­ ism," but he means something quite different from Lyotard, and he refuses the epistemological relativism that accompanies postmodern­ ism. Still, Cambridge professor Elizabeth Wright writes Postmodern Brecht, and in the theater itself plays of late display some techniques of postmodernism, such as pastiche, and some of its themes, such as the disintegration of self and world, knowledge, and boundaries. Interviewing these playwrights about the changing historical situation after 1989, I was struck by their resiliency. Fundamental commitments to social justice remain—so, too, the need for engaged writing. None of them seem to believe that the analytical tools of socialism are completely bankrupt. All of them struggle to imagine and understand beyond the moment. Here, then, is the social challenge of history-at-this-moment: how to move forward into a new situation with renewed creativity and without giving up a sense of social justice and a vision of a better political order. Reenter agency, identity, and teleology—old-fashioned terms that may keep the Brechtian legacy alive and vital as the new historical formation takes shape.


Introduction 1. For an intelligent discussion of the politics of subsidy, see Loren Kruger, "The Dis-Play's the Thing: Gender and Public Sphere in Contemporary British Theater," Theatre Journal 42 (1990): 27-47. 2. As Stuart Hall writes: "Empires come and go. But the imagery of the British Empire seems destined to go on forever." The Hard Road to Re­ newal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left (London and New York: Verso, 1988), 68 . 3. Results of a Gallup poll quoted in Dennis Kavanagh, Thatcherism and British Politics (London: Oxford University Press, 1990), 36. 4. S. E. Finer, "Thatcherism and British Political History," Thatcherism Per­ sonality and Politics, ed. Kenneth Minogue and Michael Biddiss (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987), 127. 5. "The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism among the Theorists," in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 40. See also Hall, Hard Road to Renewal 6 . John Willett, ed., "Short Description of a New Technique of Acting Which Produces an Alienation Effect," Brecht on Theatre (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), 140. 7. For an extensive account of Brecht's West German reception, see John Rouse, Brecht and the West German Theatre (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989). For reflections on the east, see Klaus Volker, "Brecht Today: Classic or Challenge," Theatre Journal 39 (December 1987): 425-433. For an assessment after the fall of the Berlin Wall, see Marc Silberman, "A Postmodernized Brecht?" Theatre Journal 45 (March 1993): 1-19. 8 . Volker, "Brecht Today," 432. 9. Brecht reception in other countries of western Europe is not germane to this discussion, but surely a study of Brecht's legacy to the French theater would be fertile. The French legacy is largely directorial, and it is very significant; Planchon, of course, but many other directors as well have created Brechtian work. Playwrights are more difficult to name, unless some of the collective creations of a group like Le Théâtre du Soleil are included. For a discussion of some of this work, see David Bradby,



10. 11.

12. 13.


15. 16. 17. 18. 19.

20. 21.

22. 23.

Notes to Pages 5-9 Modern French Drama 1940-1990, 2d ed. (Cambridge and New York: Cam­ bridge University Press, 1991). Sue-Ellen Case, "Introduction," The Divided Home/Land: Contemporary Ger­ man Women's Plays (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992), 19. In 1989 Tara Arts Group, an Asian theater company founded in 1976, produced an adaptation of Brecht's Round Heads and Peak Heads, which made this point explicit in its program: "Tara Arts adaptation of Brecht's original employs elements of South African dance and music, along with Indian theatre techniques, in its examination of the rise of racism." Pro­ gram notes, Round Heads and Peak Heads, directed by Yogesh Bhatt, Lon­ don. For a full discussion of the formation of that consensus during this pe­ riod, see chapter 2 in Dennis Kavanagh, Thatcherism and British Politics. For a short history of the Arts Council and subsidy policy, which, how­ ever, concentrates on the 1970s, see Catherine Itzin, Stages in the Revolu­ tion: Political Theatre in Britain since 1968 (London: Methuen, 1980), 152­ 60. For an incisive overview of the history and development of these various companies and "first-wave" dramatists, see Roger Cornish and Violet Ketels, "Introduction," Landmarks of Modern British Drama, Vol. 1: The Plays of the Sixties (London and New York: Methuen, 1985), vii-xxxvi. See also John Elsom, Post-War British Theatre (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976); John Russell Taylor, Anger and After, 3d ed. (London: Methuen, 1977); Katherine Worth, Revolutions in Modern English Drama (London: G. Bell, 1972). (London: Faber and Faber, 1988), 55. Martin Esslin, "Brecht and the English Theatre," Reflections (New York: Doubleday, 1969), 77. Ibid., 76. Ibid., 75. A chronological list of productions of Brecht plays in Britain through 1976 can be found in the catalog for the National Theatre exhibition of 1977, Bertolt Brecht in Britain, comp, and ed. Nicholas Jacobs and Pru­ dence Ohlsen (London: TQ Publications, 1977), 85-98. Esslin, "Brecht and the English Theatre," 78. My way of characterizing this relation is not Brecht's initial way. In "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting," the first time he uses the term Verfremdungseffekt, he says the A-effect in the German epic theater "was principally designed to historicize the incidents portrayed." Willett, Brecht on Theatre, 96. I am stressing the "effect" (result) aspects of alien­ ation—that is, that it is produced because of play writing (and directing) techniques having to do with gestus, epic structure, and historicization techniques and cannot be understood apart from them. Willett, "On Gestic Music," Brecht on Theatre, 104-5. Case points out that Brecht's "political revision of the gest is a critique of the way in which all of these stage practices had evolved within his

Notes to Pages 9-15

24. 25. 26. 27. 28.




32. 33. 34.


36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41.


own specific tradition." Divided Home/Land, 20. For British playwrights, too, the development of gestus is related to actor training and directorial traditions of long-standing hegemony. See, for example, Edward Bond on the Royal Shakespeare Company's acting habits, chapter 2. Willett, "A Short Organum for the Theatre," Brecht on Theatre, 201. Ibid., 190. Ibid., 97. Ibid., 137. In addition to Brecht on Theatre, see John Willett, Brecht in Context: Com­ parative Approaches (New York and London: Methuen, 1983); Klaus Volker, Bertolt Brecht: A Biography, trans. John Nowell (New York: Seabury Press, 1978); for an acting approach to Brecht that is useful to Americans, see John Harrop and Sabin R. Epstein, Acting with Style (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1982). On Brecht as a director, see John Fuegi, Bertolt Brecht: Chaos According to Plan (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987). Andy Phillips's lighting design is particularly well profiled in Jim Hiley's Theatre at Work; The Story of the National Theatre's Production of Brecht's "Galileo" (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981). Gaskill says he first heard about Brecht at university as early as 1948 and that he'd read the Eric Bentley translations of The Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Good Woman of Setzuan early on, as well as listening to a 78-rpm recording of The Threepenny Opera. He remembers being initially inter­ ested in the idea of separation of the elements, which he did not under­ stand until he saw the Ensemble in 1956. Interview with Bill Gaskill, October 18, 1985. For a useful discussion of staging and design at the court, with many references to Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble, see "Designers Talk: Objects in Open Space," in Inside the Royal Court Theatre, 1956-1981, ed. Gresdna A. Doty and Billy J. Harbin (Baton Rouge and London: Louisi­ ana State University Press, 1990), 173, 203. Ibid., 182. Ibid., 181-82. See, for example, on Soyinka, Sandra Richards, "Wasn't Brecht an Afri­ can Writer?" Brecht in Asia and Africa: The Brecht Yearbook XIV (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong, 1989), 168-83. Bill Gaskill interviewed by Tom Milne, "Brecht in Britain," in Theatre at Work, ed. Charles Marowitz and Simon Trussler (London: Methuen, 1967), 123-32. Ibid., 51. See 41-51, for more details about GaskiU's work with Brechtian improvisation. Ibid., 136. Interview with Bill Gaskill, January 9, 1991. Interview with Bill Gaskill, June 21, 1989. Interview with Bill Gaskill, October 18, 1985. Gaskill, A Sense of Direction, 20.


Notes to Pages 15-23

42. Interview with Bill Gaskill, January 9, 1991. 43. Interview with Bill Gaskill, June 21, 1989. 44. Gaskill quotes Bond as calling Joint Stock "the Royal Court in exile," A Sense of Direction, 136. 45. Interview with Bill Gaskill, January 9, 1991.

Chapter 1 1. This analysis is now hopelessly compounded by charges, in the winter of 1993, that Müller was implicated with the Stazi (secret East German police) during the late 1970s. 2. Retreats from Realism in Recent English Drama (New York and London: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 56. 3. Brenton is best known for his collaborations with David Hare, although they seem increasingly incompatible in strategies and interests (see chap­ ter 4). For a concise summary of the contrasts between them, see John Bull, New British Political Dramatists (London: Grove Press, 1984), 60-62. Although written in 1983, Bull's book is excellent on the early work of several playwrights discussed here: Brenton, Hare, and Griffiths. 4. See " The Best We Have, Alas': Note on Brecht," Theater 17 (Spring 1985): 5-7; also "Introduction," Plays: One (London and New York: Methuen, 1986); also see "Howard Brenton and Bertolt Brecht: Selected Affinities," interview with Janelle Reinelt, in Howard Brenton: A Casebook, ed. Ann Wilson (New York and London: Garland, 1992), 39-58. 5. See, for his anti-Brechtian sentiments, "Petrol Bombs Through the Pro­ scenium Arch," interview with Catherine Itzin and Simon Trussler, The­ atre Quarterly 5, no. 17 (1975): 19ff.; for his more sympathetic views, see Howard Brenton, "T h e Best We Have, Alas'" and "Howard Brenton and Bertolt Brecht." 6 . "Petrol Arch," 14. 7. Ibid., 10. 8 . Howard Brenton, Hitler Dances (London: Methuen, 1982), 34. 9. "Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction," Brecht on Theatre, 70. 10. W. B. Worthen, Modern Drama and the Rhetoric of Theater (Berkeley: Uni­ versity of California Press, 1992), 159, 165. 11. "Disrupting the Spectacle," interview with Peter Ansorge, Plays and Play­ ers, July 1973, 23. 12. "A Short Organum," in Willett, Brecht on Theatre, 195. 13. "Petrol Arch," 8 . 14. David Rabey identifies Brenton's work (to 1986) as "neo-Jacobean" in his chapter "Cartoon Nightmares": "The ironic, grotesque parade of social caricatures owes as much to the modern cartoon as to the Jacobean city comedy for its immediate familiarity." I see this as one tool in Brenton's multiple kit bag of epic effects, one that Brecht also used well in, e.g., Arturo Ui and Schweyk in the Second World War. David Ian Rabey, British

Notes to Pages 23-29

15. 16. 17. 18. 19.



22. 23.


25. 26.

27. 28. 29.


and Irish Political Drama the in Twentieth Century (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986), 137. "Petrol Arch," 8 . Ibid. Interview with Howard Brenton, July 9, 1987. Interview with Howard Brenton, January 15, 1991. Ruby Cohn defines realism as "a code of conventions—picture-frame pro­ scenium bounding a room furnished with three-dimensional objects and peopled with characters who behave predictably according to their he­ redity and environment, and who speak in clear sentences and con­ cepts." Retreats from Realism, 3. For a general explication of the ideological implications of realism, see Terry Lovell, Pictures of Reality: Aesthetics, Politics and Pleasure (London: British Film Institute, 1983). Trevor Griffiths first recommended this book to me. Philip Roberts, "Howard Brenton's Romans," Critical Quarterly 23 (1981): 7. For an account of the litigation surrounding the play, see Phillip Roberts, "The Trials of The Romans in Britain," in Howard Brenton: A Case­ book, ed. Ann Wilson (New York and London: Garland, 1992), 59-70. "One suspects that the court case against Brenton and the National The­ atre represents conservative distress at the political implications of his epic history, as well as its sexual violence. Brenton sees ancient and recent British history in far less flattering terms than many historians; but then the others were not usually writing from an anti-imperialistic perspective." Joel Schechter, "Beyond Brecht: New Authors, New Spec­ tators," in Beyond Brecht: Brecht Yearbook, vol. 11 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983), 46-47. Richard Boone, Brenton the Playwright (London: Methuen, 1991), 181. Ann Wilson has written about the issues of realism in the play, arguing that in fact, Brenton builds in a metacommentary on the limits of realism similar to my discussion of the "Crisis in a Garden" scene in The Genius. Ann Wilson, "Berlin Bertie," in Howard Brenton, 145-57. Richard Boone reports that even after the original plans for coproduction were shelved, the play was originally titled Galileo's Goose. Brenton the Playwright, 232. For an excellent account of the relationship between Galileo and The Ge­ nius, see ibid., 231-47. Ann Wilson, " 'Crows on the Barbed Wire': The Politics of Gender in The Genius," Howard Brenton, 102, 114-15. While I disagree with Wilson's general thesis, I think she offers a provocative and insightful reading of the play. Alice Cook and Gwyn Kirk, Greenham Women Everywhere (Boston: South End Press, 1983), 5. All quotations are from The Genius (London: Methuen, 1983) and are hereafter cited in the text. In his recent work Brenton has used various aspects of detective and spy

2l 6

30. 31.

32. 33. 34.

35. 36. 37.


39. 40. 41. 42.


Notes to Pages 32-49 thrillers as structuring and stylistic devices. I am thinking of Dead Head, Diving for Pearls, and H.I.D. Interview, October 18, 1985. See Ann Wilson for a related critique of this scene, emphasizing audience appropriation of political theater as entertainment, Howard Brenton, 110— 11. Cf. W. B. Worthen on Brenton. Interview with Howard Brenton, July 9, 1987. "The Red Theatre under the Bed," Howard Brenton interviewed by Tony Mitchell, New Theatre Quarterly 3 (August 1987): 199. Not that Brenton refuses to see here and elsewhere (especially in Sore Throats) the destructive behavior that often deforms sexuality—but at least he sees it as socially constructed; Brecht naturalizes it as destructive or dangerous per se. Howard Brenton, Bloody Poetry (London: Methuen, 1985), 14. All quota­ tions are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text. Interview with Howard Brenton, July 9, 1987. For an extremely thoughtful and provocative critique of the relationship of Mary's characterization to issues of gender and class, see Sandra Tome, "'Disentangled Doom': The Politics of Celebration in Howard Brenton's Bloody Poetry," in Wilson, Howard Brenton, 127-44. I am indebted to Richard Boone's reading of Sore Throats which enabled me to grasp the continuity of sexual themes in Brenton's work. Cf. Boone, Brenton the Playwright, 158-72. Interview with Howard Brenton, January 15, 1991. Ibid. All quotations are from Ali and Brenton, Moscow Gold (London: Nick Hern Books, 1990) and are hereafter cited in the text. In the last image of the play the three women of the play practice "flying" for a mime act that they hope will tour Europe. They are caught, as the lights go down, on the tips of their toes, just before takeoff. "After Words: Berlin Bertie/' in Wilson, Howard Brenton, 148.

Chapter 2 1. See, for example, "On Brecht: A Letter to Peter Holland," Theatre Quar­ terly 30 (1978): 34-35. 2. See especially Peter Holland, "Brecht, Bond, Gaskill and the Practice of Political Theatre," Theatre Quarterly 30 (1978): 24-34; Philip Roberts, "The Search for Epic Drama: Edward Bond's Recent Work," Modern Drama 24 (December 1981): 458-78; Hubert Zapf, "Two Concepts of Society in Drama: Bertolt Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan and Edward Bond's Lear," Modern Drama 31 (1988): 352-364; and Stanton Garner, "PostBrechtian Anatomies: Weiss, Bond, and the Politics of Embodiment," Theatre Journal 42 (1990): 145-164. Also see Malcolm Hay and Philip Roberts, Bond: A Study of His Plays (London: Methuen, 1980). Jenny

Notes to Pages 49-52


Spencer's new book, Dramatic Strategies in the Plays of Edward Bond, is especially good (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). 3. The Pope's Wedding, directed by Keith Johnstone for a "Sunday Night without Decor." Bond had written "about fifteen" plays that weren't produced. Interview with Edward Bond, "Edward Bond, the Long Road to Lear," New Theatre Voices of the Seventies, ed. Simon Trussler (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981), 26. 4. Philip Roberts, "Search for Epic Drama," 459. 5. For example, Ruby Cohn: In a context—mine—which still values good writing, i.e.. dramatic writ­ ing that probes, inflames, exposes, arouses, but does not preach, the War Trilogy stretches out too long to sustain a drama. Seeing the three plays in succession, I was one of the few diehards to remain in the uncomfort­ able RSC pit through nearly five hours of performance. As intransigent in the direction as in the writing of his recent plays, Bond makes no concessions to the theatre habits of the admittedly bourgeois audiences. (84-85) 6 . For a thorough examination of how attitudes have shifted in England to

7. 8.

9. 10.


12. 13.

14. 15.


merge with the new hegemony, see Stuart Hall's The Hard Road to Re­ newal. The production won the prize for the best play of the season. Bond, "On Brecht," 34. Spencer, Dramatic Strategies, 61. Most likely Yugoslavia, in the same way that Czechoslovakia, while not actually specified, is most nearly the country in David Edgar's The Shape of the Table. Although they are very different plays, The Sea also comes to mind as a play in which the presence of a younger generation opens out a range of concrete possibilities in place of more traditional closure. See Spencer on Bond and Chekhov in her discussion of Summer, 205-6, for related insights. Spencer, Dramatic Strategies, 178. Nick Bicat (frequent musical collaborator with David Hare) composed the songs for Restoration. Holland points out, "They have clear echoes of the Brecht-Eisler style, punctuating and commenting on the action through poetic analogues and modern parallels." Times Literary Supplement, quoted in Bond on File, ed. Philip Roberts (London: Methuen, 1985), 48. Worthen, Modern Drama, 96. See Bond, "Introduction," Saved, Plays: One. Critics seem to have so much trouble with this optimistic ending, probably because they usually read as bourgeois critics who have come to expect optimism of a certain class-based kind. "There is a certain sort of struggle in people about various parts of them­ selves, some of which as one gets older one has to get rid of. And if one


17. 18.


20. 21.



Notes to Pages 53-57 can't get unity between these various personalities, then one can't achieve coherent action." Quoted in New Theatre Voices of the Seventies, 28. Quoted in Roberts, "Search for Epic Drama," 470. The social relation expressed by the gestus is described by Bond in his definition of the TE (Theater Event), his own name for what he writes into his texts. He offers the example of a Middle Eastern woman express­ ing grief over the dead body of her husband or son. She uses her hands to express her feelings, to call attention to the body of the beloved, and finally to smooth her hair when she realizes she is being filmed for TV. "Commentary on the War Plays," The War Plays, rev. ed. (London: Methuen, 1991), 308. Edward Bond, Red Black and Ignorant, The War Plays, pts. 1 and 2 (London: Methuen, 1985), 10. Future references to individual plays will be coded with the initials of the particular play: RBI (Red Black and Ignorant), TCP (The Tin Can People), etc. Edward Bond, Great Peace, The War Plays, pt. 3 (London: Methuen, 1985), 28; hereafter cited as GP. The Monster's physical embodiment represents the differing time strata: "The Monster's skin, hair and clothes are charred and singed a uniform black so that he appears as if he might have been carved from a piece of coal. His hair sticks up in stiff spikes as straight as nails. (Alternately, the Monster may be a uniform red.)" RBI, 4. See Bond's "Notes on Post-Modernism" in which he suggests the obso­ lescence of the notion of Utopia in a postmodern world in which wants have replaced needs. Needs, according to Bond, are made human through legitimation and require the idea of Utopia. Two Post-Modern Plays (London: Methuen, 1990), 239. Ruby Cohn, who has written about the trilogy as a verse drama, is help­ ful in explicating its function in The Tin Can People, which she judges the most effective of the three plays in "link[ing] Bond's verse rhythm to dramatic event": In the post-holocaust dust a few survivors nourish themselves from tin cans while the long, uneven lines of their dialogue describe the recent atomic war. . . . In tense scenes the characters exchange short, stichomythic lines, but often, too, they indulge in long, free verse solilo­ quies. . . . From the printed page Bond's lines can be read aloud to empha­ size recurrent phrases or shifts in rhythm, but in the theatre [the original RSC production] the dialogue was unrecognizable as verse. (83, 94)

24. Bertolt Brecht, Poems, 1913-1956, ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim (New York and London: Methuen, 1976), 319-20. 25. These are not actual titles of scenes; they are my statements about the main actions in scene 5 in RBI and scenes 12 and 14 in GP. In the first play the scenes have titles: "Learning," "Love," "Eating." In the second

Notes to Pages 58-74



28. 29.

30. 31.




35. 36. 37. 38.


play only the main sections have titles: "Paradise in Hell," "The Tin Can Riots," "The Young Sages." The third play has no titles. Quoted in New Theatre Voices of the Seventies, 35. Cf. Bertolt Brecht: "The epic theatre's spectator says: I'd never have thought it—That's not the way—That's extraordinary, hardly believable—It's got to stop—The suf­ ferings of this man appall me, because they are unnecessary." "Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction," in Willett, Brecht on Theatre, 71. "Those who would change the world by kindness should learn /Where kindness is most needed it cannot be given." RBI, 14. Cf. Brecht's The Measures Taken, in which the Young Comrade must learn that sometimes compassion is counterrevolutionary. Given the current AIDS epidemic, the play cannot help but be read in topical terms as well as more generally. Bond calls this basic situation the "Palermo Improvisation" because he first used it with student actors at Palermo University. "Commentary on the War Plays," 247ff. Cf. H. D. F. Kitto's reading of the Oresteia, Form and Meaning in Drama (London: Methuen, 1956), 1-86. "Men have presumed to create a feminine domain—the kingdom of life, of immanence—only in order to lock up women therein. But it is regard­ less of sex that the existent seeks self-justification through transcen­ dence—the very submission of women is proof of that statement. What they demand today is to be recognized as existents by the same right as men and not to subordinate existence to life, the human being to its animality." The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshley (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 73. Jenny Spencer, remarking not only on The War Plays but on a range of Bond's writing, concludes, "Taken together, Bond's plays give increasing credence to the belief that women's (a)historical role gives them great revolutionary potential, that any real social change, any rethinking or rebuilding of a rational society, will not be accomplished without women as crucial players." Dramatic Strategies, 221-22. In a review for Western European Stages I describe the seeming Frenchness of the production from my American perspective. "Edward Bond in Paris," Western European Stages 4 (1992): 34. Caucasian Chalk Circle, Mother Courage, The Mother, The Good Person of Setzuan—it's worth noting how many of Brecht's own plays concern parenting as one of their central themes. "Commentary on the War Plays," 252. All quotations are from Two Post-Modern Plays, 101-2. "Commentary on the War Plays," 252. Once again I am reminded of Worthen's gloss on Saved—the relative privilege of the social "self" and its "systematic objectification along class lines." In the Company of Men features Bartley, who I have not discussed here but who provides a counterpoint to Leonard and the entire class identity of the fictive world of the play through the collision between his

Notes to Pages 78-82


39. 40. 41. 42. 43.

working-class "character" and the world of privilege for which he works (Leonard's father is his employer). Worthen, Modern Drama, 94-96. "Commentary on the War Plays," 303. Personal interview, Cambridge, January 14, 1991. Ibid. Ibid. "I feel that I want to make criticisms of Brecht while advancing from him." Ibid.

Chapter 3 1. See, for example, Michelene Wandor, Carry On, Understudies (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986); Sue-Ellen Case, Femi­ nism and Theatre (New York: Methuen, 1988); and Jill Dolan, The Feminist Spectator as Critic (1988; reprint, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991). For a fuller philosophical discussion of these distinctions, not spe­ cifically related to theater, see Alison M. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Hu­ man Nature (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983). 2. Wandor, Carry On, 134. 3. Ahistorical because "the category of 'women' connotes that the experi­ ences of all women may be subsumed within it; and the term 'patriarchy' emerges as a discrete ideology and practice that has predominated for most of Western history." Case, Feminism and Theatre, 64. 4. Contra Austin Quigley, who seems determined to play down Churchill's socialism and even her feminism as he emphasizes that "Churchill, to this day, is uneasy about relating her life and career to political labels and political programs, and though prepared to travel under the banners of socialism and feminism, she remains wary of what those labels might imply." Quigley approves of Churchill because, "aware of and sympa­ thetic to the reformist personal ideals and revisionary social goals of left-wing theorists, Churchill retains sufficient distance from them." Quigley's characterization of Churchill displays the same ideological po­ sitioning as Martin Esslin's persistent understatement of Brecht's poli­ tics. "Stereotype and Prototype: Character in the Plays of Caryl Chur­ chill," Feminine Focus: The New Women Playwrights, ed. Enoch Brater (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 26, 27. 5. See, for example, Sara Lennox, "Women in Brecht's Works," New German Critique, no. 14 (1978): 85-86; Renate Voris, "Inszenierte Ehrlichkeit: Ber­ tolt Brechts 'Weiber-Geschichten'" in The Brecht Yearbook, vol. 12 (1983), ed. Fuegi, Bahr, and Willett (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985), 79-95; Renate Fischetti, "A Feminist Reading of Brecht's Pirate Jenny," Communications 14 (April 1985): 29-33. 6 . Dolan, Feminist Spectator, 106. 7. Brecht, "Alienation Effects," 96-97. 8 . Cf. p. 5, on which Sue-Ellen Case's objections to feminist uses of Brecht in non-German contexts are discussed.

Notes to Pages 82-89


9. Brecht, "A Short Organum," 190. 10. Michelene Wandor, "The Fifth Column: Feminism and Theatre," Drama, no. 152 (1984): 6 . 11. Brecht, "The Modern Theatre Is the Epic Theatre," 34. 12. See the conclusion for a more general discussion of postmodernism and British epic writers. 13. Christine Di Stefano, "Dilemmas of Difference: Feminism, Modernity, and Postmodernism," in Feminism!Postmodernism, ed. Linda J. Nicholson (New York and London: Routledge, 1990), 76. 14. Dana Polan, "The Politics of a Brechtian Aesthetics," in The Political Lan­ guage of Film and the Avant-garde (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985), 79-99. 15. See Marc Silberman, "A Postmodernized Brecht?" and Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller, Conflicts in Feminism (New York: Routledge, 1990), for two recent discussions. 16. Elin Diamond, "Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory: Toward a Gestic Feminist Criticism," Drama Review 32 (Spring 1988): 84. 17. Ibid., 86 . 18. Ibid., 90. 19. Many critics have linked Brecht and Churchill. Amelia Howe Kritzer, like Jenny Spencer on Bond, continually keeps Brecht in the forefront of her analysis of Churchill. The Plays of Caryl Churchill (London and New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991). Phyllis R. Randall's collection of essays features references to Brecht in essays by Kimball King, Michael Selmon, and Elin Diamond. Caryl Churchill: A Casebook (New York: Garland, 1988). 20. Personal letter from Caryl Churchill, February 23, 1985. 21. Brecht, "A Short Organum." 22. Caryl Churchill, Plays: One (London and New York: Methuen, 1985), 183. 23. Helene Keyssar thinks that "many of the heralded gestures of Churchill's recent work can be traced back to the historical vision and transforma­ tions of Light Shining." Feminist Theatre (London: Macmillan, 1984), 90. 24. As Diamond and Case, for example, have indicated. 25. Katharine Worth appreciates the time leap strategy for its effect on per­ ceptions of Betty: "The strategy works as Churchill intends it to: the continuance of a personal Betty is remarkably easy to take, while the awareness of how long a time actually separates the first and second Betty makes more believable the profound change of sensibility that comes about." "Images of Women in Modern English Theater," in Brater, Feminine Focus, 19. 26. Caryl Churchill, Cloud 9 (London: Pluto Press, 1979), 30; hereafter cited in the text. 27. See John Clum's especially useful essay on gay and lesbian as well as feminist issues in the play, "'The Work of Culture': Cloud 9 and Sex/ Gender Theory," in Randall, Caryl Churchill, 91-116. 28. I am, of course, ignoring the social context of spectatorship, which also conditions reception. In fact, in the 1980s, certain spectators were able



30. 31. 32. 33.


35. 36. 37. 38.

39. 40.

41. 42. 43.



Notes to Pages 89-104 to miss the class critique and side with Marlene, especially in the United States. See Janet Brown's account of public and critical reception of Top Girls in Randall, Caryl Churchill, 117-130. Brecht, "Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction," 70. Roland Barthes, "Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein," Image Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 69. Churchill, Plays: One, 184. Amelia Howe Kritzer, "Feminism and Antitheatricalism: Issues in Repre­ senting Churchill's Theatre," MS, 15. Diamond, "Brechtian Theory," 90. For more detailed discussions of this play, see Reinelt, "Feminist Theory and the Problem of Performance," Modern Drama 32 (1989): 48-57; Elin Diamond, "(In)Visible Bodies in Churchill's Theatre," Theatre Journal 40 (May 1988): 189-205. Also Worth, Revolutions, 19-23, and Kritzer, The Plays of Caryl Churchill (London: Macmillan, 1991), 172-82. See also Diamond's account of Churchill's use of Foucault in "(In)Visible Bodies." Also of related interest is Feminism and Foucault, an anthology of essays on the topic edited by Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988). Caryl Churchill, Softcops (London: Methuen, 1984), 10. All quotations are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text. Amy Kritzer even comments on Pierre as a Brecht parody, The Plays of Caryl Churchill, 105. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 63. I deliberately evoke Jean Genet's famous epitaph here and regret that space does not provide an opportunity to read Genet and Sartre through Foucault and Churchill. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 202-3. See Sandra Lee Bartky, "Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power," in Diamond and Quinby, Feminism and Foucault, 61-86. Author's note to the printed text, first published in RSC News (Winter 1983), 4. Diamond, "(In)Visible Bodies," 269. Quoted as it appears in Caryl Churchill, Serious Money (London: Methuen, 1987), 13. All quotations are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text. For an account of the contrasts between the postrevolutionary politics in the various Eastern European countries, see Andras Korosenyi, "Revival of the Past or New Beginning? The Nature of Post-Communist Politics," Political Quarterly 62 (January-March, 1991): 52-74. All quotations are from Caryl Churchill, Mad Forest (London: Nick Hern Books, 1990) and are hereafter cited in the text. As a Californian, I am of course struck by the similarity to the vituperative attacks on bilingualism heard here.

Notes to Pages 109-16


Chapter 4 1. Interview with David Hare, July 25, 1987. 2. David Hare, "A Note on Performance," Plenty (London: Faber and Faber, 1978), 87. All quotations are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text. 3. Interview, July 1987. For an account of Hare's reconciliation with Wil­ liams, see his tribute, "Cycles of Hope," Writing Left-Handed (London: Faber and Faber, 1991), 1-23. 4. "From Portable Theatre to Joint Stock. . . via Shaftesbury Avenue," in­ terview with David Hare, Theatre Quarterly 5 (1975): 108. 5. David Hare, Teeth 'n' Smiles (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), 22. All quotations from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text. 6 . "From Portable Theatre to Joint Stock," 109. 7. Interview with David Hare, July 25, 1987. 8 . Ibid. 9. Or as Rabey writes, "Hare has written a series of plays to demonstrate that the personal is political, or that private experience is not separate from, but profoundly influenced by, public life." Rabey, British and Irish Political Drama, 167. 10. Cf. Brecht: "People are used to seeing poets as unique and slightly un­ natural beings who reveal with a truly godlike assurance things that other people can only recognize after much sweat and toil. It is naturally distasteful to have to admit that one does not belong to this select band." "Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction," Brecht on Theatre, 73. 11. Interview with David Hare, July 25, 1987. 12. "From Portable Theatre to Joint Stock," 114. In an otherwise informative reading of the play, Judy Oliva makes the curious choice to place this play in a group of plays she labels "National Concerns." She is then forced to support the linkage by a long stretch: "The play deals with the 'problems which will arise when people try to change the relationship between leadership and the led/ . . . In that regard, Fanshen embraces similar thematic concerns to those of Hare's ongoing analysis of postwar Britain." David Hare: Theatricalizing Politics (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1990), 52. 13. Simon Callow, Being an Actor (Middlesex: Penguin, 1984), 76. 14. Cited in The Joint Stock Book, ed. and intro. Rob Ritchie (London: Methuen, 1987), 108. Reprinted as "The Awkward Squad," Writing Left­ Handed, 64-72. 15. Interview with David Hare, July 25, 1987. 16. Interview with William Gaskill, June 21, 1989. 17. See Peter Holland's perceptive comments on Gaskill's directing, "Brecht, Bond, Gaskill, and the Practice of Political Theatre," Theatre Quarterly, no. 30 (1978): 26. 18. Joint Stock Book, 115. 19. Ibid., 117.

22 4

Notes to Pages 116-26

20. Stafford-Clark writes, "I caught on to the dialectical method and was able to refocus whole scenes and characters by taking decisions based on the political line of the play—and not on how each actor thought his charac­ ter would behave in a particular situation." Joint Stock Book, 111. 21. Interview with William Gaskill, quoted in introduction. 22. David Hare, Fanshen (London: Samuel French, 1976), 5. All quotations are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text. 23. Cf. Brecht: "Historical incidents are unique, transitory incidents associ­ ated with particular periods. The conduct of the persons involved in them is not fixed and 'universally human'; it includes elements that have been or may be overtaken by the course of history, and is subject to criticism from the immediately following period's point of view." "Short Description of a New Technique," Brecht on Theatre, 140. 24. Besides the interview cited below, Hare alludes to the line without quot­ ing it in The Joint Stock Book and in the Theatre Quarterly essay cited above. 25. Interview with David Hare, July 25, 1987. Hare gives a paraphrase of the line to Stephen in A Map of the World: "We may say a people needs ideals as they need bread," 64. 26. C. W. E. Bigsby, "The Language of Crisis in British Theatre: The Drama of Cultural Pathology," in Contemporary English Drama, ed. Malcolm Bradbury and David Palmer (London: Edward Arnold, 1981), 42. 27. Interview with David Hare, July 25, 1987. 28. Of course, this is true for Chekhov as well, and, indeed with an emphasis on mood shift and psychological subtlety, Hare can be as fruitfully com­ pared to Chekhov as to Brecht. The key difference between them may be that Hare avoids Chekhov's elegaic pessimism by representing human beings making decisions and completing actions, while Chekhov, sensi­ tive to human paralysis, represents human beings failing to make deci­ sions or to complete actions. 29. David Hare, A Map of the World (London: Faber and Faber, 1982), 63. All quotations are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text. 30. Plenty, "A Note on Performance." 31. With the exception, of course, of his most recent plays, as discussed at the end of the chapter. 32. In fact, Richard Cave argues that Hare and Trevor Griffiths are the real successors of Brecht because "the problem is fundamentally a matter of balance as opposed to emphasis, finding a right relation between charac­ ter and political context.. . . Brecht had found a way of balance in his epic theatre. . . . Hare and Griffiths have consistently found ways of ef­ fecting the balance through a controlled flexibility of styles." New British Drama on the London Stage: 1970 to 1985 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1987), 177. 33. David Hare, Teeth 'n' Smiles, 35. 34. Richard Cave devotes several pages to reading Saraffian as Arthur's foil and comments on the original casting of comedian Dave King as wholly appropriate to the role. Cave, New British Drama, 193-95.

Notes to Pages 127-37


35. W. B. Worthen's analysis of Brentoa's implications for spectators of Hitler Dances and The Churchill Play seems applicable to this aspect of Teeth 'n' Smiles in which the audience is called on to interrogate its own relation­ ship to spectacle. See also the discussion of the "Crisis in a Garden" scene in The Genius, Chapter 1. 36. David Hare, Plenty (London: Faber and Faber, 1978), 53. 37. See the passage from "A Short Organum," cited above. 38. Compare Plenty to Bloody Poetry on this point. The Shelleys seem more like victims of their historical situation than Susan, who is responsible and victimized simultaneously. 39. The movie version, however, portrays Susan much more as the victim, especially due to an added scene of life in Iran in which Meryl Streep plays Susan as drugged. Indeed, Susan's psychological incapacity comes through strongly throughout, something that tips the balance toward victimization. 40. Joan FitzPatrick Dean points out Ronald Hayman's assessment that Susan is arguably "one of the best roles written for an actress since Brecht's Mutter Courage." It is a fine role by reason of some of the same complexity and ambiguity, I would add. Cited in David Hare (Boston: Twayne, 1990), 7. 41. In her recent study of David Hare, Judy Oliva cites the New York produc­ tion of Plenty as the event that drew her to Hare. Because I share her response, and because the play moves me similarly, I should like to quote her: "I found myself an active participant in the theatrical event instead of a passive observer. I was constantly challenged to make con­ nections, to understand both the public and private politics of war-torn Britain, and to fill in the gaps in the play's time, space, and action. The final line of the play—There will be days and days and days like this'— captured all the nuances of Hare's work: irony, understatement, poetry, passion, and subtle political innuendo." David Hare: Theatricalizing Poli­ tics, 1 . 42. Oliva points out that the conjunction of rightist politics and Indian cul­ ture produce a crucial quid pro quo in the play: "Though Stephen may view Mehta as aligned with the political right, Mehta's worldview comes from a different [cultural] perspective. Likewise, Mehta may view Stephen as aligned with an outdated socialism of the Left, yet in the end Mehta applauds Stephen for wanting to change things." Ibid., 101. 43. Ibid., 104. 44. Peggy is implicated in this situation as well. She is riding on a decision about sexuality and conventional marriage that is, as Stephen says, "a convenient discovery," 46. She shares with Maggie and also with Alice the confusion of sexual license with social protest. It is a recurring minor theme in Hare's writing and a rather sexist stereotype of women. 45. See Richard Cave's excellent analysis of the final conversation between M'Bengue and Martinson, New British Drama, 205.


Notes to Pages 137-42

46. This play also seems to me to be ripe for revival as the role and workings of the United Nations become increasingly problematic in the wake of the wars in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, and Bosnia. 47. John Peters wrote: "I find Hare's play monstrously patronizing. . . . Mi­ lan Kundera has written some unforgettable pages on totalitarian kitsch: this is the genuine article." Sunday Times, June 13, 1988. 48. Ann McFerran, Time Out, March 30, 1988. 49. William Hinton, The Lustability behind the New Boom in Agriculture, quoted in the "Background Pack" for the touring production, written and com­ piled by John Gittings. 50. David Hare, interview, July 11, 1988. 51. Ibid. 52. In a deconstructive reading, David McDonald reverses the positive inter­ pretation of "Fanshen" offered here. "Unspeakable Justice: David Hare's Fanshen," in Critical Theory and Performance, ed. Janelle G. Reinelt and Joseph R. Roach (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992), 129­ 45. 53 . "I tried . . . to write a classical play about revolution, setting out the prob­ lems which will always arise when any people try to change the relation­ ship between leadership and led." David Hare, "Why Pick on Us?" Writ­ ing Left-Handed, 86. 54. Interview with David Hare, July 11, 1988. 55. Cave, New British Drama, 211-12. 56. For instance, Tim Robinson (City Limits), Martin Dinery (The Stage and TV Today), and John Peters (Sunday Times). 57. David Hare, "The Play Is in the Air," Writing Left-Handed, 32. 58. David Hare, "Oh! Goodness!" Writing Left-Handed, 158. 59. Actually, Paris by Night was first drafted in 1983, shortly after Wetherby, but it took four years to be produced. 60. "Oh! Goodness!" 159. 61. Joan FitzPatrick Dean writes, "Isobel [Secret Rapture] is a heroine of con­ siderable strength and selflessness. Untinged by the ambiguity central to Susan Traherne and most of Hare's other heroines, Isobel very pre­ cisely recalls Jenny, whom Hare describes as 'this girl who is meant to be a good person'. . . in Knuckle [an early Hare play]. Even in the face of adversity, hostility, ingratitude, and grief, Isobel maintains her idealism and values. She is undone not from within, but from without," 114. This illustrates my point nicely. 62. As this book enters its final stages in February 1993, David Hare has just adapted Brecht's Galileo for the Almeida Theatre Company, which proves the liability of pronouncements that fix in stone the plays of a restless, imaginative playwright like David Hare!

Notes to Pages 143-55


Chapter 5 1. Catherine Itzin and Simon Trussler, "Transforming the Husk of Capital­ ism," Theatre Quarterly 6 (1976): 30. 2. Interview with Trevor Griffiths, October 18, 1985. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6 . Ibid. 7. It should be clear that the discussion here is about realism and naturalism as a specific set of conventions involving a seamless narrative, psycho­ logically developed characters, and traditional notions of identifiction and empathy, not Brecht's very own specific definition of realism, to which he of course subscribed. 8 . Interview with Trevor Griffiths, October 18, 1985. 9. Ibid. 10 . "I don't really think it's more important than doing a rather high status crossword or playing a rather subtle game of Scrabble." Quoted in Itzin and Tussler, "Transforming the Husk," 36. 11. Interview with Trevor Griffiths, October 18, 1985. 12. Powerplays: Trevor Griffiths in Television (London: British Film Institute, 1984). See also John Tulloch's Television Drama: Agency, Audience and Myth (London and New York: Routledge, 1990). 13. Trevor Griffiths, Occupations (London: Faber and Faber, 1980), 45-46. All quotations are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text. 14. Cf. Sartre's Dirty Hands: Herderer loves the people too, but Sartre roman­ ticizes him as an existential hero. Here, Griffiths avoids precisely that characterization. 15. Interview with Trevor Griffiths, October 18, 1985. 16. Trevor Griffiths, The Party (London: Faber and Faber, 1974), 10. All quo­ tations are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text. 17. To the best of my knowledge, The Party has never had a major profes­ sional production in the United States; with so little tradition of a Left, most audience members would be unfamilar with these debates. It seems a shame as they are basically the same debates, albeit in a different rhetoric, that trouble American academia and social activists as well. 18. John Bull writes, "What is remarkable about this argument in theatrical terms is the amount of uncompromising space allowed it. Each man talks, vitually without interruption, for about fifteen minutes. It is a use of the stage as an arena for the discussion of political ideas without parallel amongst Griffiths's contemporaries, and it is characteristic of all his plays." New British Political Dramatists, 126.


Notes to Pages 155-79

19. For example, I attended a special conference on the future of socialism, held at the University of California, Berkeley, July 7, 1990. Both versions and several variants were prominent lines of analyses. 20. Ford, as an expert lecturing a classroom, Tagg as an outsider to such social circles, as "shooting from the hip." 21. The play has been widely discussed, and I even thought of omitting it here because of its notoriety and the already existing solid criticism of the play, especially Austin E. Quigley's essay (1981). Not a critic one usually thinks of as political, Quigley has understood many of the dimensions of this play and has written a brilliant treatment of it from the standpoint of the spectator who finds himself accused and implicated. "Creativity and Commitment in Trevor Griffiths's Com ediansM odern Drama 24 (1981): 404-23. 22. All quotations are from Trevor Griffiths, Comedians (New York: Grove Press, 1976), 33, and are hereafter cited in the text. 23. Cf. Brecht on pleasurable learning, in Willett, Brecht on Theatre, 69-77. 24. Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Trevor Griffiths (Lon­ don: Faber and Faber), 1977. 25. All quotations are from Trevor Griffiths, Piano (London: Faber and Faber, 1990), 55, and are hereafter cited in the text. 26. Interview with Trevor Griffiths, January 9, 1991. 27. Cf. Edward Bond's attempts to confront the destructive present in the innovative time structure of The War Plays and also the shared reference to postmodernity in Griffiths's preface to Piano and Bond's "Notes on Post-Modernism," which accompany the text of In the Company of Men. 28. Interview with Trevor Griffiths, January 9, 1991. 29. Ibid. 30. Although Radish is a character from Three Years and Zakhar is drawn from "Peasants," "that bit has nothing to do with Chekhov." Ibid. 31. Ibid. 32. Ibid. 33. Trevor Griffiths, The Gulf between Us (London: Faber and Faber, 1992), 3. All quotations are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text.

Chapter 6 1. Bertolt Brecht, "The Popular and the Realistic," 108. 2. John McGrath, "The Year of the Cheviot," The Cheviot,the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981), xxvii. 3. John McGrath, A Good Night Out, Popular Theatre:Audience, Class and Form (London: Methuen, 1981), 21. 4. McGrath's own production techniques easily produce comparisons with Mnouchkine's early work, especially 1789, about which McGrath writes, "[Of all her work] it is Mnouchkine's 1789 that means most still, and we can all learn a great deal from it." The Bone Won't Break (London: Methuen, 1990), 159.

Notes to Pages 179-85 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.


11. 12.


14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23.




Interview with John McGrath, October 15, 1985. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. For Brecht's connection to this tradition, see Joel Schechter, Durov's Pig (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1985), especially chapter 1 on Karl Valentin. Elizabeth MacLennan writes: "Nowadays critics and academics refer con­ fidently to 'the ceilidh-play,' as though people had been writing them for years. But it was a new form. On the poster we called it 'a ceilidh play with scenes, songs and music of Highland history from the clearances to the oil strike,' but it was not a play in any accepted sense at that time. In the newspaper ads we called it 'a ceilidh entertainment with dance to follow.' But people in the villages described it as a concert which is the usual term for any entertainment." The Moon Belongs to Everyone: Making Theatre with 7:84 (London: Methuen, 1990), 54. "The Popular and the Realistic," 108. Two other points not discussed in detail here: a disagreement with Brecht's decision to work in "a hierarchical commercial theatre structure" and a tendency to "fetishize science." Interview with John McGrath, October 15, 1985. Also cf. A Good Night Out, 42. It is interesting that, of the playwrights I interviewed, David Hare, How­ ard Brenton, John McGrath, and Trevor Griffiths all mention either Brecht's "arrogance" or this particular pedagogic point as unacceptable. Cf. Edward Bond's critique of the Alienation process as dependent on an assumed Authority, chapter 2. Interview with John McGrath, January 15, 1985. Ibid. A Good Night Out, 72. Interview with John McGrath, January 15, 1985. A Good Night Out, 30. Ibid., 83. Ibid., 86, 87. This paragraph represents a capsule summary of the lecture "Mediating Contemporary Reality," A Good Night Out, 53-59. In her memoire of life with 7:84 and with John McGrath, Elizabeth MacLennan provides insight into the ways in which gender issues were identified and developed over the years within the company. The Moon Belongs to Everyone. See, for example, her description of the tensions involved in Women In Power, 139-44. Cf. Brecht: "The emotions always have a quite definite class basis; the form they take at any time is historical, restricted and limited in specific ways. The emotions are in no sense universally human and timeless." "Short Description of a New Technique," 145. John McGrath, Fish in the Sea (London: Pluto Press, 1977), 49. All quota­ tions are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text.


Notes to Pages 186-98

26. Most of the information about McGrath's early work is documented in an interview with him in New Theatre Voices of the Seventies, 98-109. 27. New Theatre Voices of the Seventies, 103. 28. Ibid., 105. 29. McGrath attributes this statistic to The Economist, 1966. See "Some Notes," The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, 76. 30. Ibid. 31. Interview with John McGrath, October 15, 1985. 32. A Good Night Out, 5. 33. Ibid., 12. 34. Interview with John McGrath, October 15, 1985. 35. Interview with Edward Bond, January 14, 1991. 36. Germany has produced his work and a recent book in German has intro­ duced 7:84 critically. (Andreas Jager, John McGrath und die 7:84 Company Scotland [Amsterdam: Verlag B.R. Griiner, 1986]). The company has toured to Holland and was included in a Brecht conference and festival in Toronto in 1986, being the only British company to perform there with other Brecht-related groups. 37. In 1982 Robert Marvin Knotts completed a dissertation at the University of Ohio, "The Use of Epic Structure in Contemporary British Leftist Drama." He includes a discussion of McGrath's Little Red Hen in a chapter that stresses epic structure and thematic emphasis on public action by a large group. 38. See McGrath's account of this in New Theatre Voices of the Seventies, 109. 39. McGrath cites that audience figures went up to 75 percent for his first show, Unruly Elements; Soft or a Girl? the rock concert-format show that preceded Fish in the Sea, played to 109 percent capacity. A Good Night Out, 51, 53. 40. All quotations are from the 1977 text. McGrath, Fish in the Sea. 41. "A Note on the Text and the Music," Fish in the Sea. 42. Author's note, Fish in the Sea. 43. Brecht, "On the Use of Music in an Epic Theatre," in Willett, Brecht on Theatre, 86 . 44. "The Year of the Cheviot," The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, vi. 45. Documented in program material published with the script, 78-79. 46. An account of the collaborative process appears in "The Year of the Cheviot," viii-xiv. 47. Interview with John McGrath, January 15, 1985. 48. A Good Night Out, 98. 49. The Tramway is a large, industrial building, a Victorian tram shed that was Glasgow's Museum of Transport for twenty years. For an account of its transformation into an important performance venue, see Alasdair Cameron, "Glasgow's Tramway: Little Diagilevs and Large Ambitions," Theatre Research International 17 (Summer 1992): 146-55. It seems particu­ larly interesting that Peter Brook's Mahabharata was produced there in 1988 and that Cameron likens the building to Mnouchkine's Cartouch-

Notes to Pages 198-209

50. 51. 52.

53. 54.

55. 56.

57. 58.


erie, since both McGrath and MacLennan make comparisons to the work of those directors. His comments on Ronconi appear in The Bone Won't Break (London: Methuen, 1990), 156-58. John Fuegi, Bertolt Brecht; Chaos according to Plan, 30-34. Border Warfare, 35. All quotations are from the unpublished manuscript of Border Warfare, courtesy of John McGrath and Freeway Films and hereafter will be cited in the text. Paraphrase of the last lines of The Good Person of Setzuan. This account is taken from The Moon Belongs to Everyone, 164; and Tom Maguire, "Under New Management: The Changing Direction of 7:84 (Scotland)," Theatre Research International 17 (Summer 1992): 134. Maguire, "Under New Management," 136-37. Loren Kruger saw this production in a community center in Govan, a working-class district of Glasgow that has long been a venue associated with McGrath's company. She reported the house less than half-full with adolescent schoolboys, young artist types in their twenties, and some older audience members who appeared to have a history with 7:84. It may be that 7:84 will have to solidify a new audience for its new and different work. See Loren Kruger in Theatre Journal for a solid analysis of these issues. Descriptive language from the Independent, August 30, 1992, in response to the performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Conclusion 1. Kimball King, "Howard Brenton's Utopia Plays," Howard Brenton: A Case­ book, 118. 2. Théâtre de la Complicité is a notable exception. Their play at the Na­ tional, The Street of Crocodiles, consisted of a series of associated images with no linear narrative; the meaning was completely within the mise-enscène. Of course, they are an international company working in England, but they show that I have overgeneralized.


Aeschylus, 65-66 Aldermaston march, 16, 143 Ali, Tariq, 39, 216 Alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt), 8, 11, 75, 78, 79, 84, 89, 90, 98, 99, 101, 107, 109, 110, 113, 123, 124, 151, 152, 174, 180, 185 Ansorge, Peter, 214 Arden, John, 13, 16, 49, 51, 186 Arts Council (England), 6 , 178, 204 Arts Council (Scotland), 197, 204 Ashcroft, Peggy, 179 Barker, Howard, 14, 15 Barthes, Roland, 89, 222 Bartky, Sandra Lee, 222 Beauvoir, Simone de, 67, 219 Beckett, Samuel, 71, 75, 182 Belt and Braces, 178 Berliner Ensemble, 7-8, 13, 51, 111, 179, 213 Bicät, Nick, 217 Bicät, Tony, 111 Bigsby, C. W. E., 123, 224 Bond, Edward, v, 1, 12, 13, 16, 49­ 80, 111, 171, 182, 186, 188, 203, 207, 208, 214, 216-20, 228, 229, 230 "The Activist Papers," 49 aggro-effects, 53, 62, 78 Bingo, 51 Early Morning, 52, 76 The Fool, 15, 51, 53 In the Company of Men, 49, 50, 53, 70-77

Lear, 51, 52, 76 "Notes on Post-Modernism," 76, 209, 218, 228 Palermo Improvisations, 71, 219 Restoration, 52, 53 Saved, 15, 52, 53, 77 Summer, 51 Theater Event (TE), 53, 78-79, 80, 145, 218 The War Plays, 49, 50, 52, 53-70, 71, 74, 76, 78, 79, 80, 171, 172 The Woman, 51 Boone, Richard, 25, 215, 216 Bradby, David, 211-12 Brater, Enoch, 220 Brecht, Bertolt Baal, 7, 15, 34, 75 The Caucasian Chalk Circle, 7, 8, 13, 14, 22, 54, 56, 85, 113, 116, 132, 172, 186, 213 Coriolanus, 7, 143, 179 The Days of the Commune, 7 Der Jasager and Der Neinsager, 13, 51 Drums and Trumpets, 7 Galileo, 26, 32, 112, 131, 150, 151, 213, 226 The Good Person of Setzuan, 36, 39, 54, 113, 157, 179, 202, 213 In the Jungle of Cities, 14 A Man's a Man, 54 The Measures Taken, 150 Mother Courage, 6 , 7, 8, 15, 32, 35, 112, 117, 131, 150, 162, 225 Puntila and His Hired Man Matti, 32, 54


2 34


Thirteenth Night, 18 The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, 7, Weapons of Happiness, 18, 22, 34, 47 99, 179 Brighton, Pam, 189 The Rise and Fall of the City of MaBrook, Peter, 6 , 7, 12, 40, 230 hagonny, 7, 61 Brown, Janet, 222 Round Heads and Peak Heads, 212 Bryant, Michael, 142 Saint Joan of the Stockyards, 14, 15 The Threepenny Opera, 7, 61, 97, 213 Bull, John, 214, 227 Brecht in Britain, 5-8 Callow, Simon, 114, 223 Brecht quoted, 4, 8 , 9, 10, 11, 21, 22­ Cameron, Alasdair, 230 23, 56-57, 82, 83, 177, 180, 207, Case, Sue-Ellen, 5, 212-13, 220, 221 224, 229 Cave, Richard, 139, 224, 225, 226 Brechtian and English acting, 11-12, Chekhov, Anton, 145, 146, 161, 162, 37-38, 50, 78, 90, 115-16 165, 168, 217, 224, 228 Brechtian dramaturgy (see also epic Churchill, Caryl, v, 16, 81-107, 186, structure), 1, 4, 8 , 11, 17, 57, 77, 207, 220-23 80, 82, 85, 88, 98, 105, 113, 115­ Cloud 9, 86, 87, 88, 89-90, 101, 105, 161 16, 122, 126, 128, 132, 145, 193, Fen, 88, 99 202, 208 Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Brechtian legacy, 1, 5, 8, 15, 16, 17, 86, 89, 90, 91, 98 25, 49, 151, 161, 209, 211 Mad Forest, 101-6, 174, 207, 208 Brenton, Howard, v, 11, 16, 17-48, A Mouthful of Birds, 88, 102, 106, 53, 107, 143, 207, 208, 214-16, 209 225, 229 Serious Money, 88, 97-101 Berlin Bertie, 21, 22, 23, 25, 47, 48, Softcops, 92-97 208 Bloody Poetry, 18-19, 23, 24, 34-39, 47 Top Girls, 86, 87, 88 , 89, 90, 91-92, 99 Vinegar Tom, 87, 88 , 89, 90, 91 Brassneck, 18 Clum, John, 221 Christie in Love, 23 The Churchill Play, 18, 19, 22, 25, 34 CND (Committee for Nuclear Disar­ mament), 16 Conversations of Exile, 18 Cohn, Ruby, v, 18, 215, 217, 218 Epsom Downs, 18 Cold War/post-Cold War, 2, 4, 17, Galileo, translation of, 26, 31-32, 101, 102, 103, 155, 156, 168, 207, 34, 40 208, 211 The Genius, 18, 19, 24, 26-34, 35, 37, 47 Conrad, Joseph, 111, 112 Cook, Alice and Gwyn Kirk, 27, 215 Greenland, 18, 207 Cornish, Roger and Violet Ketels, H.I.D., 23 212 Hitler Dances, 19, 21, 22 Iranian Nights, 18, 39 Magnificence, 21, 22 D'Arcy, Margaretta, 186 Moscow Gold, 18, 23, 39-47, 208 Davies, Oliver Ford, 142 Pravda, 34, 207 Dean, Joan FitzPatrick, 225, 226 The Romans in Britain, 19, 22, 25, Delaney, Shelagh, 16 Derrida, Jacques, 85 25, 34 Devine, George, 6 , 13, 186 The Sleeping Policeman 18 Dexter, John, 6 , 12, 13, 40, 143 Sore Throats, 18, 21, 34

Index Diamond, Elin, 84-85, 91, 96, 221, 222 Diamond, Irene and Lee Quinby, 222 Dinery, Martin, 226 Di Stefano, Christine, 84, 221 Dolan, Jill, 82, 220 Doty, Gresdna and Billy J. Harbin, 213

235 Lay-By, 143 Occupations, 145, 146, 147-51, 152, 157, 186, 189 The Party, 145, 146, 151-57, 173 Piano, 146, 161-68, 173, 208 Real Dreams, 162

Hall, Peter, 6, 14 Hall, Stuart, 3, 189, 211, 217 Hare, David, v, 15, 16,107, 109-42, Edgar, David, 144, 208, 217 143, 146, 147, 177, 186, 214, 217, Elsom, John, 212 223-26 Epic structure (see also Brechtian Dreams of Leaving, 141 dramaturgy), 8 , 9, 19, 22, 30, 31, Fanshen, 14, 109, 113-22, 138-40, 33, 42, 70, 84, 90, 101, 102, 106, 146 151, 164, 172, 195, 197, 207, 212 Licking Hitler, 141 Esslin, Martin, 7, 212, 220 A Map of the World, 112, 113, 122, Euripides, 51 123,124, 132-38 Murmuring Judges, 142 Finer, S. E., 211 Paris by Night, 141 Fischetti, Renate, 220 Plenty, 111, 112, 122, 123, 128-32, Foco Novo, 204 141, 146 Foucault, Michel, 91, 92-97, 222 Pravda, 34 feminism and Brecht, 5, 82-85 Racing Demons, 142 feminism, 10, 26, 67-68, 81-108 pas­ Saigon, Year of the Cat, 141 sim, 157 The Secret Rapture, 141, 142 Fran^on, Alain, 71, 72, 75 Strapless, 142 Frankfurt school, 2, 147 Teeth V Smiles, 111, 112, 122-23, Fuegi, John, 198, 213, 231 125-28, 132 Wetherby, 111, 141 Garner, Stan, v, 216 Harrop, John and Sabin R. Epstein, Gaskill, William, v, 6, 12-16, 51, 53, 213 113-16, 139,146, 186, 213, 214, Hay, Malcolm, 216 223 Herbert, Jocelyn, 6, 12, 13 Gems, Pam, 82 Hiley, Jim, 213 gestus, 8, 9,11, 30, 31, 51, 61, 62, 70, Hinton, William, 113, 116, 119-20, 77, 80, 84, 92, 98, 99, 101, 103, 121, 138, 226 106, 109, 207, 212 historicization, 8, 10, 11, 30, 51, 83, Greenham Common, 26, 27, 33 86, 87, 96, 97, 129, 151, 155, 173, Griffin, Hadyn, 12, 146 193, 197, 212 Griffiths, Trevor, v, 1,16, 48,143-75, Holland, Peter, 53, 216, 223 188, 208, 214, 224, 227-28, 229 hooks, bell, 174 Apricots and Thermidor, 143 Howard, Pamela, 198 The Cherry Orchard, 161, 163 Comedians, 145, 146, 151, 157-61, Ibsen, Henrik, 145, 146, 182, 163 183 The Gulf between Us, 168-75


236 Itzin, Catherine, 212, 214, 226 Jacobs, Nicholas and Prudence Ohlsen, 212 Jager, Andreas, 230 Jaggar, Alison M., 220 Jellicoe, Ann, 13, 49, 51 Johnstone, Keith, 13, 51, 217 Joint Stock Company, 15, 97,113-16, 178, 204, 224 Kavanagh, Dennis, 211, 212 Keller, Evelyn Fox, 221 Keyssar, Helene, 221 King, Kemball, 207, 221, 231 Kitto, H. D. F., 219 Knotts, Robert Marvin, 230 Korosenyi, Andras, 222 Kritzer, Amelia Howe, 221, 222 Kruger, Loren, 211, 231 Kyle, Barry, 40 Labour Party, 2, 3, 163 Lan, David, 91, 102 Lawrence, D. H., 144 Lazaridis, Stephanos, 40 Lehrstücke, 53, 161 Lennox, Sara, 220 Littlewood, Joan, 6 , 7, 12, 179, 180, 182 Lovell, Terry, 215 Lukács, Georg, 144, 147, 164, 208 MacLennan, Elizabeth, 178, 204, 205, 229, 231 Maguire, Tom, 203, 231 Marowitz, Charles and Simon Trussler, 213 Marx/Marxism, 2, 31, 79, 84, 115, 116, 137, 144, 147, 148, 152, 154, 181, 182, 203 McDonald, David, 139, 226 McFerran, Ann, 138, 226 McGrath, John, v, 16, 143, 147, 177­ 205, 207, 228-31 All the Fun of the Fair, 200

The Bone Won't Break, 200, 204 Border Warfare, 182, 188, 197-203, 204, 205 The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, 179, 181, 182, 186, 188, 193-97, 200 Fish in the Sea, 182,186,188,189-93 The Game's a Bogey, 181 A Good Night Out, 177, 180, 181, 183-84, 187, 197 Lay Off, 181 A Man Has Two Fathers, 186 Out of Our Heads, 197 Plugged Into History, 189 Soft or a Girl?, 182, 186 The Tent and Tell Me, 186 Trees in the Wind, 190 Underneath, 189 Watching for Dolphins, 205 Z Cars, 186 Mabou Mines, 209 Meyerhold, Vsevolod, 39-41 Miller, Arthur, 42 Milne, Tom, 213 Minogue, Kenneth and Michael Biddiss, 211 Mitchell, Tony, 216 Mnouchkine, Ariane, 179, 198, 228, 230 Monstrous Regiment, 82, 178, 204 Müller, Heiner, 4, 5, 17, 18, 47, 209, 214 National Theatre, 6 , 26, 138, 142, 164, 168, 187, 204, 207, 212, 215 Nelson, Cary and Lawrence Gross­ berg, 211 Nichols, Mike, 162 Not/But, 52, 80, 84, 85, 90, 135, 173 Oliva, Judy, 223, 225 Olivier, Lawrence, 6 , 154 Osborne, John, 6 , 13, 16, 67, 143 Peters, John, 226 Phillips, Andy, 2, 213

Index Polan, Dana, 84, 221 Poole, Mike and John Wyver, 147 Portable Theatre, 111, 143 postmodernism, 78, 80, 84, 105, 208-9 Quigley, Austin, 220, 228

237 Taylor, John Russell, 212 Thatcher/Thatcherism, 2, 3, 16, 17, 28, 50, 97, 98, 138, 139, 141-42, 152, 163, 177, 189, 202, 204, 207 television, 147,163, 186, 197 Tales of a Thousand and One Nights, 169, 172, 173 Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, 13 Tome, Sandra, 216 Tulloch, John, 227 Tynan, Kenneth, 6 , 143, 179, 186

Rabey, David, 214-15, 223 Randall, Phyllis R., 221 The Recruiting Officer, 82 Regent, Benoit, 72 Red Ladder, 82, 178, 204 Reinelt, Janelle, 214, 222, 226 Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano, Richards, Sandra, 213 162,164 Ricoeur, Paul, 207 Roberts, Philip, 25, 49, 215, 216, 218 Robinson, Tim, 226 Volker, Klaus, 5, 211 Román, David, vi Voris, Renate, 220 Ronconi, 198, 231 Wandor, Michelene, 81, 82, 83, 220, Rouse, John, v, vi, 211 221 Royal Court Theatre, 6 , 12, 13, 16, Waters, Les, 139 49, 51, 179, 186, 187, 207 Weill, Kurt, 182 Royal Shakespeare Company, 6 , 7, 12, 13, 14, 50, 79, 187, 207, 213 Wesker, Arnold, 13, 16, 49, 51 Wilde, Oscar, 11, 132 Rushdie, Salman, 40 Wing-Davey, Mark, 106 Wildcat, 178 Savary, Jerome, 200 Willett, John, 12, 211, 212, 214, Schechter, Joel, 215 218 7:84,177-205, 207 Williams, Raymond, 110, 147 Shadwell, Thomas, 97 Wilson, Angus, 13 Shaffer, Peter, 36, 42 Wilson, Ann, 26, 48, 215, 216 Shakespeare, 9, 51, 67, 152 Shaw, George Bernard, 181, 182, 183 Wilson, Colin, 157 Wilson, Robert, 209 Silberman, Marc, 211, 221 Wilson, Snoo, 144 Soyinka, Wole, 13, 51, 213 Wolf, Christa, 47 Spencer, Jenny, 51, 52, 217, 219 Woolf, Virginia, 90 St. Denis, Michel, 6 Worth, Katherine, 212, 221, 222 Stafford-Clark, Max, 15, 97, 114-16, Worthen, W. B., v, 22, 52, 214, 216, 139, 224 217, 219, 225 Stanislavsky, Constantin, 13 Wright, Elizabeth, 209 Stein, Peter, 4 Stratford East, 16 Zadek, Peter, 4 Streep, Meryl, 141, 225 Zapf, Hubert, 216 Strindberg, August, 145, 146