Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Two performance pieces linked through one stranger from Brecht’s time in Sweden use allegory to explain how he saw the events coming and why we should act to avoid them. Like many of his warnings we can see how they went unheeded.
Sometimes I feel a tad concerned when people dig out a little seen production of anything and we find out the reasons as to why it is little performed. The story of Dansen shows us how Dansen becomes terrified of the demolition of his surroundings through the actions of a mysterious stranger. How Much is Your Iron then further explores these events through the events and the cut off view of Svenson. Ultimately both end with the destruction of things held dear – democracy and peace being part of it – and the stranger continues to act like nothing could stop him.
The translation is good. I liked the way that it tried to tell the allegorical tale without ending up being difficult to fathom. The dialogue was reminiscent of the time period whilst not being so dense for a modern audience it was difficult to digest.
The difficulty that I had was in the acting. Dansen was not great. I needed a sympathetic Dansen and one I could empathise with. Charlie Angelo played him like the kid in the playground everyone lined up to hit because he was so annoying. It was annoying. As a counterpoint Andrew Turner’s The Stranger therefore found it difficult to pitch his stranger. Pitching a little less comic book villain would have helped. Less would have been much more.
Once we moved into How Much is Your Iron I felt much more confident and much more relaxed. Tom Bolger’s Svendson was tremendous. Assured, confident, working and sharing with others it was a joy to watch. He held the emotions in check and we saw the destruction of his confidence in a subtle and creative manner. Andrew Turner’s the Stranger became much better alongside him. This was the reason doing these plays was a good idea. The cast are very open and honest about their being young and amateur. They have a lot of people studying theatre and it is to their credit that rather than finding some Ayckbourn to murder they have chosen to be challenging and fresh. Overall I think they have performer remarkably well.
The staging and direction were very clever. The mirroring of How Much is Your Iron and Dansen clearly brought through the connections between the two and reminded me strongly of The Wonderful World of Dissocia by Anthony Neilson; Act One showed things from one side and then act two showed you them again from a new perspective.
Aside from the obvious problems at the beginning this grew on you. I am fully aware of the need to abide by Brechtian technique but the requirement of Brecht here was to warn, to engage and to convince. The company eventually managed to do that, thankfully but they had a difficult beginning.
Both pieces were worthy of rediscovery and my earlier fears were unfounded. The company didn’t play a blinder but they certainly opened my eyes to some new/old work. If you are a Brecht fan – an even if you are not – you would do worse than stumbling upon the work of this company in the future. I also wonder how many people would find a play in which the Dutch Olympic Rowing Team are thanked in the programme notes..