THEATRE / Rise and fall: Paul Taylor reviews Brecht in Hollywood at the Bridge Lane Theatre

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The Independent Culture
Brecht in Hollywood: the catchy title might have seduced some people into expecting a work along the lines of Tales from Hollywood, Christopher Hampton's witty and sympathetic look at the travails of German writers who fled to Tinseltown to escape Nazism. Of course, with Vanessa Redgrave and Ekkehard Schall, Brecht's son-in-law, up there in the cast of three, it was never likely that this new piece would subject the great playwright to the same degree of sardonic scrutiny.

Indeed, it turns out that the title is a plain misnomer. Supplementary programmes rechristen the evening Brecht in Exile, though from the impression of haste, indecision, and lack of any strong structural principle in this cobbled-together revue-like show, it could just as well have been labelled Brecht up a Gum Tree.

The admonition from Arturo Ui, 'Do not rejoice - the womb he crawled from is as fertile as ever', acts as the implicit epigraph for a piece that starts out from the best of motives: to offer a reminder, via extracts from the work Brecht wrote during his years of exile, of the way fascism rises and could rise again, and of the toll it takes on its victims.

Performed by three such demonstrably great actors (the third is Rade Serbedzija from the former Yugoslavia), the show has huge potential. You end up goggling in disbelief at the dog's dinner it turns into. There are a small number of sections that truly work.

In 'The Jewish Wife', Redgrave, playing a German who decides, for her Gentile husband's safety and her own, to decamp solo to Amsterdam, memorably conveys the woman's pained veerings between solicitude for, and anger at, her spouse. Preoccupied, retreating behind a newspaper, he cannot bring himself to acknowledge the possible momentousness of this parting, itself a small victory for fascism.

Serbedzija, who plays the husband, is also powerful in the 'Legend of the Dead Soldier' song, as the beaming, brainwashed, happy automaton of the war machine, still jerking his crutch in a wonky goosestep.

Over much of the rest of this directionless, indecisively performed anthology, kindness would draw a veil, except to say that the extract from the end of Galileo is quite hilariously bad, with Schall evidently groping in a fog for the English words, and Redgrave, all gawky redhead as a drag Andrea, giving the scene the irresistible feel of some scam from I Love Lucy. Not quite what Brecht had in mind.

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