Baal | Malthouse Theatre & Sydney Theatre CompanyPhotos - Jeff Busby

Wow. Well. An unforgettable, rambunctious, theatrical event is this Malthouse/Sydney Theatre Company co-production of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal. It doesn’t usually rain incessantly on stage during a play and nor, usually, does the set collapse, but all this and much more happens in Baal. What to say? It thrills, it makes you gasp; it’s powerful, sexy and destructive.

We open with Baal, rock god poet, being feted and fawned upon by the women of the cultured, literary world. It is one of the great artistic clichés (Modigliani is one example), the artist deluded by an anti-establishmentarianism so intense that the normal limits on ego afforded even by emotion come to be regarded as bourgeois and limiting, both personally and artistically. These days, this play could seem to contribute little to the well-worn story of the doomed narcissistic genius setting himself apart from society’s expectations, but nothing seems dated here even though Baal was written in 1918. Baal considers consideration and compassion to be trite yet he performs lyrics of painful beauty and tenderness (Brecht’s original lyrics given the rock treatment). Such is his lust for life that his depravity is intoxicating at first. His sheer exuberance and sexuality inspires irrational destructive loyalty from women and from his best friend and lover, Eckhardt.

Baal invites the world of artists and intellectuals to ask ourselves if we grant particular latitude to those we call genius. Brecht wanted theatre audiences to feel like they were in a boxing ring where people cheered and threw pennies to the combatants. This especially sensual and exuberant production does all this, defying convention in its own right. The audience is ultimately forced to define its own limits, as per the playwright’s intention. To begin with we are half with the anti-hero ... Those silly women offering their hearts to be stomped to shreds by a man they know is depraved; who can sympathise? The bacchanalian antics, sodden sensuality and disregard of conventions and mores smell like the best of good times, rock god style. But, as we know, whether you acknowledge your soul or not, the result is inevitable: the devil has you.

The production brings weather on set and uses light in a subtle and skilful way as the story moves from delight to pity to horror. Baal is a populous play and the cast do triple, even quadruple duty. Baal himself finishes in a soaked forest, mired in blood and shit, visited by the ghosts of those he has destroyed.

In the end nobody cares.

Malthouse Theatre & Sydney Theatre Company present
by Bertolt Brecht | translated by Simon Stone & Tom Wright

Directed by Simon Stone

Venue: CUB Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre | 113 Sturt Street Southbank VIC
Dates: April 2 – 23, 2011

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