Much is made, by the Gunpowder Theatre Company, of their latest endeavour’s ambition.
The Days of the Commune is one of Brecht’s least-performed plays, we’re told. Cynics might reply that there is a reason for this: a hefty, agenda-ridden account of the Paris Commune, it represents a challenge in any milieu – all the more so when that happens to be behind a South London pub while Chelsea play Everton.
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 Hotel 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 nineteenth-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 is some well-choreographed physical comedy and some excellent ensemble scenes. It is in dealing with this physicality that director Genevieve Girling demonstrates flair.
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 uncomfortable length of time to be cooped up in a room behind a pub. Brecht’s own narrative has been spread too thin, 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 – and for £13, there are many worse ways to pass an evening.