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The glory of Weimar

February 12, 2013

By coincidence I saw two plays this week.  The first on Monday night was Brecht's Life of Galileo, at the RSC with Son and Girlfriend.  Then tonight Carl Zuckmayer's The Captain of Kopenick with Daughter on the South Bank.  Both are highly recommended and tickets still available.  In the former you have the added benefit of seeing the actor who plays the Emperor in Star Wars in the star role, in the latter Antony Sher plays the lead role with a sense, as from afar of Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk which of course is from the same period and also deals with the insanity of WWI through farce.

Brecht was long planned, but Kopennick was more spontaneous.  I got an email, pinged Eleanor who wanted to see it.  She was only free Tuesday night,  I had a presentation in London on Wednesday so it all worked out well.  Although the hotel I stayed in near Elephant and Castle featured a rodent trap under the desk which did not bode well when I checked in, but if there were any mice or rats around they stayed away for my stay.  

Interestingly both the authors worked together at Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theatre.  However Zuckmayer rejected the didactic style of Brecht and the contrast was this a delight.  Now to be clear I think the Weimar republic represents somewhat of a pinacle of artistic culture in Berlin.  Its portrayal in my favourite musical of all time Cabaret gives a sense of the irreverence, the creative and the optimistic; all despite the darkening of the skies with the emergence of Hitler and Nazi Party.  I have a whole collection of symphonic music from the period as well as several books collecting pictures from the Bauhaus schools.

Both plays have relevance for today.  Kopenick tells the story of a criminal who masqueraded as a Prussian officer and the manner in which rule compliance allows him to second a troop, capture the mayor and get away with a significant amount of money.  The absurdity of a bureaucracy taken to extremes, and the willingness of ordinary people to tolerate such absurdity can be seen in slavish adherence to Sick Stigma in the modern age.  Systems maketh the man, and farce brings out the foolishness well.  The play is also made for the dramatic mobile qualities of the stage at the National, kill as they say for a ticket.

Galileo is didatic,  Brecht has a message to get across and it can't be escaped.  He does however avoid making Galileo too much of a hero.  Not just in his (to my mind understandable) recantation when shown the instruments of torture, but in his morally ambiguous claims to have invented the telescope and unwillingness to leave well alone.  Just because someone was right about heliocentricity, we don't need to blind ourselves to their failures.  We have too much a tendency to hero worship and Brecht brings this out well.  And to complete the circle Brecht did of course attempt to adapt Švejk for the theatre.

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