Days of the Commune, White Bear Theatre, London
Alice Jolly is an author, playwrite and teaches creative writing at Oxford University. She is crowd-funding her own memoir of infertility and surrogacy with the publisher Unbound. 50 per cent of the proceeds of the book will be donated to SANDS (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Foundation).
Wednesday 26 October 2011
Much is made, by the Gunpowder Theatre Company, of the fact that Days of the Commune is one of Bertolt Brecht's least-performed plays. Cynics might reply that there is a reason for this. This is a hefty, agenda-ridden account of the Paris Commune and as such it represents a challenge in any milieu – all the more so when that happens to be behind a South London pub during a grudge football match.
But in fact Days works remarkably well in the fringe environment. With the help of some chalk and a few scant props, we are taken from Hôtel de Ville to Austria and back again. The scrappy, cloistered nature of our environment is rather at one with the play's ethos. And the cheers from the football-watching punters next door almost – almost – add revolutionary fervour.
There are several strong appearances from a broadly youthful cast. As the smarmy Thiers, Steve Wickenden provides a delightful villain, a 19th-century Dr Evil. Kayleigh Hawkins excels in her own way, campy and posing. And Alicia Ambrose-Bayly deserves mention for an authoritative Genevieve. Ample scope for admiration – though a problem, perhaps, of cohesion. On occasion, the actors appear to be starring in their own production, their individual styles somewhat at odds with one another.
Conversely, it is when they pull together that they are at their best. There are some well-choreographed moments of physical comedy and some excellent ensemble scenes. It is in dealing with this physicality that director Genevieve Girling demonstrates flare.
It's a shame, then, that these strengths aren't always matched in other elements. The script has been conscientiously chopped, but still lingers on too long. Two hours and fifteen minutes is an uncomfortable length of time to be cooped up in a room behind a pub. Brecht's own narrative has been spread too thinly, so we end up with plot diversions which neither go anywhere nor contribute, in their slight appearance, to the production's overall merits.
More than that, though, it is a question of direction. Interpretation is less consistent than the physicality. Too often, the actors trade lines rather than engage in dialogue. A few mumble. Would-be interruptions come after a slight pause, the first speaker's voice trailing off of its own accord rather than being cut short. They are all problems that need to be fixed. With a few tweaks, Days could be rather enjoyable.
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