Bertolt Brecht play on nazi Germany

This video from Britain says about itself:

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich

1 July 2014

Drama Unit 2 2012, King Edward VI College, Stourbridge.

By Len Phelan in Britain:

More light on the darkness

Wednesday 13th January 2016

A revival of Bertolt Brecht’s chilling portrait of life under the nazis needs a clearer focus, says LEN PHELAN

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich
Union Theatre, London SE1

BERTOLT BRECHT’S reputation in this country rests largely upon productions of plays such as The Life of Galileo, Mother Courage or The Caucasian Chalk Circle, works in which he employs epic theatre techniques to “make the familiar strange” and thus lay bare the underlying contradictions of societies based upon ruling class exploitation and the ideological mechanisms underpinning it.

Written in the same period as these great works, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich is something of an exception in its abandonment of parable and historical revisionism to speak directly to audiences about contemporary events.

Premiered in 1938 in Paris, when Brecht was in exile from the Hitler regime in Germany, it’s a series of scenes which deliver short, sharp jabs at the nazi solar plexus and lay bare the brutality of national socialist reality.

It depicts a Germany which from the top — the judiciary, scientists, the teaching profession — to the bottom — the poor and the unemployed — is riddled with poverty, violence and the ever-present fear of betrayal.

Phil Willmott’s production at the Union Theatre effectively conveys the horrifying bleakness of that era, not least the consequences for those who openly resisted, and it points up the virulent strain of anti-semitic scapegoatism nurtured by the regime.

Thus we see a judge driven to distraction in his attempts to square the circle in the case against an innocent Jewish shop owner but who has to come up with a verdict which will satisfy the conflicting demands of the nazi hierarchy.

In another emotionally charged scene at the conclusion, a Jewish woman decides to tell her husband she is leaving to save his career as a clinician, while he assures her that her self-imposed exile will only last a few weeks as he hands her the fur coat she won’t be needing until winter.

That malign motif of the most intimate personal betrayal runs throughout. A school teacher and his wife whip themselves into a frenzy of paranoia over whether their son will betray them to the Hitler Youth, while a maid wonders whether her brownshirt boyfriend will use the same deceitful trick he employs to identify the “grumblers” in the dole queues on her.

Yet however laudable the efforts of cast and director are in realising Brecht’s dark and sardonic vignettes, this production doesn’t really answer the question Willmott poses in his programme note as to whether Fear and Misery is now nothing more than a “period piece.”

Rather than drawing on unattributed quotes from the Guardian facilely bemoaning the impotence of silent majorities in the face of motivated violent minorities in “Hitler’s Germany, Stalinist Russia, Maoist China and Cambodia under Pol Pot,” he might find Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitrov’s definition of fascism worth considering.

As early as 1928, he viewed it as “the dictatorship of the most reactionary elements of financial capitalism,” which not only carries out “an organised massacre of the working class” but in its foreign policy “cultivates zoological hatred against other peoples.”

As a Marxist, Brecht understood this definition of fascism and it implicitly underpins this hugely important play, with its depiction of war abroad and repression at home in pursuit of the nazis’ “guns before butter” policy.

And without it, his work does indeed come across as a period piece and the uncomfortable resonances it has with the rise of the ultra-right in France, Germany and Ukraine, or indeed this country, can only appear to be the consequence of inexplicable and irresistible phenomena rather than as the extremes resorted to by the ruling class to maintain their dominance.

Any interpretation which ignores that analysis ultimately confuses rather than clarifies understanding — but that shouldn’t stop you from going to see a well-produced piece of work and drawing your own conclusions.

Runs until January 30, box office:

Play about poet Leo Vroman

This video is the trailer of the Dutch theatre play Hoe mooi alles (How beautiful everything).

On 16 December 2015, Hoe mooi alles was in the Leiden theatre in the Netherlands. It is about the life of famous Dutch poet Leo Vroman (April 10, 1915 – February 22, 2014) and Tineke, his wife.

There are two roles in the play: Kees Hulst as Leo Vroman, and Esther Scheldwacht as Tineke.

Hoe mooi alles, book coverThe play is based on the novel, also called Hoe mooi alles, by Mirjam van Hengel, written in close collaboration with Leo and Tineke. The book was supposed to come out on Vroman’s 99th birthday, but he died just before that.

The play is set at shortly before Vroman died at 98 years of age. The couple reminisces, especially about 1938-1947: the time between when they met and became engaged, and when they finally married. Tineke was of partly Dutch, partly Indonesian ancestry, and had recently come to the Netherlands to study at the same Utrecht university as Leo. 1938-1947 was the time of the second world war.

Before that war, Vroman, being Jewish, sometimes experienced anti-Semitism. After the war, in New York City, a doctor advised Vroman to have an operation to make his nose look smaller: ‘With such a Jewish nose, no employer will give you a job’.

On 10 May 1940, nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. The Vroman family suffered terribly from the fascists’ persecution. Leo fled the Netherlands on 14 May. Against all odds, he managed to reach England on a sailing boat. Tineke decided not to join Leo on that journey, for a complex of reasons, including expecting then it might be even more dangerous than the nazi occupation.

Soon, Leo Vroman decided to leave England for Indonesia, where he could finish his biology studies. Then, imperial Japan invaded Indonesia. That meant three years of Japanese prison camps for Vroman. Often, he came close to dying. Thinking about Tineke kept him alive. Along with small things, like a little mudskipper fish.

After the defeat of Japan, the Dutch government demanded that Leo Vroman should fight in another war: colonial war to stop Indonesian independence.

However, Vroman refused that. He wrote a famous pro-peace poem (also quoted in the play). He went to New York City. Eventually, he became a famous biologist in the USA.

In 1947, Tineke also came to New York City. It was illegal for her to go to the USA to marry. So, officially she came as a student. When she saw Leo after landing, she admonished him not to welcome her too enthusiastically, as authorities might see them.

One theme in the play is mutual feelings of guilt of the couple. Tineke felt guilty about not having joined Leo in fleeing the Netherlands in May 1940. Leo felt guilty about being away from Tineke for so long, and not returning to her immediately in 1945.

Nevertheless, this is a play about two people loving each other for many decades.

A review of the play is here.

Over 70-year-old actresses in new play

This video is a trailer about the new Dutch comedy Vrouwen van Later by Thomas Verbogt.

On 27 November 2015 there was the première of this play in the theatre in Leiden.

There are four roles in this play; all women.

One of the four is the role of Merel, a student in her twenties doing research on media in the Netherlands in the 1970s. Lusanne Arts (still at theatre school) plays this role.

The three other roles are for over seventy-year-old well-known actresses: Ingeborg Elzevier as the student’s grandmother; and Trudy Labij as the sister of the widow of a famous 1970s TV entertainment personality.

The role of the widow was originally for Nelly Frijda. Health problems caused her to be replaced by Gerrie van der Klei. Ms Van der Klei is known not only for acting, but for singing as well. She sang in New York City with Duke Ellington.

This comedy has a serious undertone about people getting older.

Theatre play Oeroeg in Leiden theatre

This video is the trailer of the Dutch language 1993 film Oeroeg. The international title of the film is Going home. It is (somewhat loosely) based on the 1948 novel Oeroeg by Hella S. Haasse (1918-2011). The book was translated into English in 2013 as The Black Lake.

It is about the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The main protagonist is a Dutch boy, born and bred in the mountains of the west of Java island in Indonesia. In the film he is called Johan; in the novel he is nameless. His father is a tea plantation manager.

The other main character, after whom the book was named, is Oeroeg. The name means ‘landslide’ in the Sundanese language of west Java. Oeroeg is an Indonesian boy, son of a plantation foreman. He is of the same age as, and the friend of, the Dutch boy.

Oeroeg was Hella Haase‘s first novel (after an earlier poetry book and a theatre play). She was born in Indonesia herself. Before she became an author, she studied to become an actress. Later, she wrote some texts for theaters.

So, it would be interesting to see what would happen to Oeroeg if it would change from a novel into a theatre play.

On 19 November 2015 was the première of Oeroeg, adapted as a theatre play by Madeleine Matzer, in the Leiden theatre. Quite some actors turned up in the audience of this première.

This 19 November 2015 video is the trailer of the theatre play.

This 19 November 2015 video is an interview with Leopold Witte. He is one of the two actors in the play; he plays the Dutch protagonist; nameless, like in the book. The other actor, Helge Stikker, plays Oeroeg and all minor characters. He also makes music on electric and acoustic guitars.

The show started with a film projection of an owl flying towards the spectators.

Later in the play, there was often a landslide (like in Oeroeg’s name) projected in the background.

Both the book and a play mention an ‘anteater’. Anteaters are South American, not Indonesian. Maybe Hella Haase confused them with pangolins, which do live in Indonesia. The book (not the play) also mentions a ‘houtduif’ (wood pigeon). A bird species of the Netherlands, not of Indonesia where other pigeon species live.

The ‘black lake’, a mountain lake after which the English translation of the book is named, plays an important role in the story. The young Dutch protagonist nearly drowns there, but survives. Oeroeg’s father drowns trying to save the Dutch boy; making that boy feel guilty and indebted to Oeroeg.

The main theme in the play is how colonialism, with its corollaries like economic inequality and racist prejudice, destroys friendships. The Dutch boy in the play, compared to many other Dutch people in the then Dutch East Indies, is not particularly prejudiced against Indonesians. He used to be better at speaking Sundanese than at speaking Dutch, and even later he still has a Sundanese accent in his Dutch. Yet he does not understand why his friend Oeroeg gradually becomes an anti-colonialist supporter of independence for Indonesia.

The end of the novel, and of the play, tells how the friendship eventually ends tragically during the Dutch war against newly independent Indonesia, 1945-1949. In the film, Dutch ‘Johan’ goes back to where he was born, as a Dutch colonial army soldier. In the book and in the play, the Dutchman also goes back to his site of birth, but as a civilian, not a soldier. Still, behind the stage, images of the bloody military conflict are projected. Close to where he used to play with Oeroeg when they were boys, the Dutchman meets an armed Indonesian pro-independence fighter; who says: ‘Go back, or I will shoot!’ Is that Indonesian fighter Oeroeg? Yes, says the film. In the book and the play, the Dutchman is not really sure whether the Indonesian is Oeroeg or not. He may be unable to recognize his former close friend. Emphasizing what was lost since his happy childhood memories.

A review of this play is here.

United States author Arthur Miller, new book

This video from the USA says about itself:

Williamstheatre presents THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller. Directed by Omar Sangare. Once emblematic of political persecution in the 1950s, THE CRUCIBLE is an allegory that resonates wherever sanctimony is used as a weapon of oppression and intolerance. In this canonical American drama set during the seventeenth-century Salem witch trials, Arthur Miller explores human cruelty and the manipulations, accusations, and dishonesty that afflict a paranoid community looking for scapegoats.

Saturday, March 9, 2013.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Pointed prose

Thursday 10th December 2015

Essays by US playwright Arthur Miller provide acute insights into the way we live now, says GORDON PARSONS

The Collected Essays of Arthur Miller
Edited by Matthew Roudane
(Bloomsbury, £30)

“HOW may man govern himself so that he may live more humanly, more alive?”

This question, according to one of the acknowledged major dramatists of the age Arthur Miller, is central to all great art.

Matthew Roudane’s “comprehensive selection” of Miller’s essays, covers virtually the whole of his working life from 1944 to 2000.

Not only do they majestically mark the centenary of his birth but they also emphatically establish him as one of the major social, political and philosophical commentators on our modern world.

Apart from perceptive analyses of his own works and the responses of US and foreign audiences to major plays like Death of a Salesman and A View from the Bridge, Miller ranges widely over the domestic and international political scene.

He was of course a central player in the McCarthyite persecution hysteria that swept the US post-1945, defying the Un-American Activities Committee and incensing the Establishment with The Crucible, his Salem witch-trial play.

There is throughout these essays a sense that a better world should, and could, be possible.

Sadly, but realistically, he notes the essential differences between the two near-revolutionary moments of his lifetime in the US, the 1930s depression when talk of “some form of socialist ownership had to be the next step” and the youth ferment of the 1950s and ’60s.

If the former was a revolt based on a social rationalism, the latter was based on individual mysticism — “solidarity,” as Miller would have it, as opposed to “loneliness.”

Although sympathetic, unlike his contemporary Bertolt Brecht, Miller was no Marxist — he was more a fellow traveller on the other side of the street.

While recognising the alienation of man, having become a part of the industrial machine, the dramatic focus of his plays is the search for a middle way.

They are a search for meaning within individual identity and fulfilment through the essential need for social unity with his fellow men.

As the essays proceed through the half century, the early note of almost evangelically naive idealism — “When we find the essence of America, we shall be able to forge a foreign policy capable of arousing the hopes and the love that is neither in governments nor armies nor banks nor institutions, the force that rests in the heart of man” — fades to one of resigned reality.

Yet he still denies the dominant realism of modern theatre which depicts “man’s defeat as the ultimate implication of an overwhelming determinism.”

There is not a great deal of humour here.

But even so Miller reveals a Swiftian satiric edge when he recommends that the prolific US legal execution system should be privatised.

“The condemned would, of course, get a percentage of the gate” from the “immense paying audiences,” he writes.

Anyone who has read his magnificent autobiography Timebends will recognise Miller’s command of language in this collection.

Essay after essay rings with memorable quotations. Informative, provocative, entertaining — I shall return often to Miller’s overview of our world through the vivid lens of his playwright’s perceptions.