In a very short season at The Street Theatre is Brecht: Bilbao and Beyond. Not a play, but a series of songs, fables, poems and excerpts of plays, all written by the impeccable German wordsmith, Bertholt Brecht, and performed by two veterans of the stage whose presence is gentle, inviting and absolutely engaging.
Tracing elements of Brecht's life and work from birth to death (and then back a little), we are treated to just a few gems of his amazingly generous humour and capriciousness.
For those who know nothing of the man or his life, this production isn't likely to enlighten you. It does seem to demand some basic knowledge of either Brecht's life or his work, although a most basic background should suffice to string together the varied references to his life, work, and most importantly, his values and ideology. For those who have been privileged enough to have encountered Brecht's work, though, this show is an absolute joy.
The music for many of Brecht's lyrics used in this show were composed especially for it by its pianist Chuck Mallet, with a large proportion of the remainder composed by Kurt Weill, a contemporary of Brecht who was best known for his collaborations with the bard. Mallet plays with admirable energy and is an excellent foil for John Muirhead's Brecht.
Muirhead's portrayal of Brecht is abrupt, engaging and funny, with just the right balance of each and brilliant transitions between emotional intensity and clinical didacticism. Of course, this show just wouldn't be worthy of Brecht's name without using his characteristic verfremdungseffekt, but this alienation device does stand or fall on timing. Muirhead's sense of timing is impeccable.
Likewise, Muirhead's portrayal of the occasional other character, which provides greater depth to the story of Brecht's life than even a dedicated fan like myself has previously enjoyed, is commendable. With simple props like a scarf, a rag and a tablet computer, Muirhead on his own represents an all star cast!
Brecht: Bilbao and Beyond is a fitting tribute to a playwright whose influence over modern theatre is greater than we tend to recognise. The show reflects its creators' depth of experience and leaves this Brecht fan wanting more.
The Street Theatre presents
Brecht: Bilbao and Beyond
Venue: Street 2 | 15 Childers Street, Canberra, ACT
Dates: 2 – 3 Jun 2012
Duration: 75 minutes, no interval.
Tickets: $25 - $19
Bookings: (02) 62471223 | www.thestreet.org.au