The pioneering German director writer and theatre practitioner, Bertolt Brecht tends to be lifted up to mythic status in the theatre world. But what of the real man?
British-born academic Eric Bentley worked as Brecht’s translator while he was in exile in the US during the ’40s. American critic and director Charles Marowitz has adapted this play from the memoir Bentley wrote of those years. Within it we see Brecht as a bastard: an opportunist, a philanderer and an egomaniac.
It is well-known that he was difficult, but the details of Brecht and his translator’s strange, tense relationship are less famous. Marowitz keeps their collaboration as the play’s focus, but it quickly becomes clear that although they worked closely for over a decade or so, Brecht kept Bentley at an emotional arm’s length.
To get around this, Marowitz has Bentley, played with a nice focus by Jonathon Gibson, stepping out of the action and presenting an imagined version of what Brecht could have said. It adds drama, but undermines Bentley’s first hand experience of the man himself.
It would be impossible to separate Brecht the man entirely from his work, but Marowitz’s passing references to Brecht’s theories backfire: they are likely to confuse anyone who comes to the play knowing little about him.
David Cottis’s intimate production manages to fit several disparate events – from Brecht’s testifying at the anti-Communist trials, his love affair with Ruth Berlau, her subsequent mental breakdown and his return to Europe in 1947 – with an impressive fluidity. Alex Harland occasionally struggles with his German accent, but overall gives a convincing portrayal of the cantankerous, unpredictable writer.
For those who know of the playwright and his work, ‘Silent Partners’ will be of interest. But it doesn’t reveal much that’s new, and is best avoided by those unfamiliar with Brecht.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell