If you want to see theatre used in a clever, original and funny way, Bertolt Brecht is your man.
Like Leonard Cohen, he has a reputation for being depressing. Both men, if you pay attention to them, are inspiring, uplifting and brilliant.
I saw Brecht’s Man is Man in Norwich, at the Playhouse, performed with great energy by Theatre Paradisum. In a joke that Brecht would have appreciated, the cast was all-female.
It was stunning. Mesmerising. But the theatre was nearly empty: I counted 60 in the audience.
Why the lack of interest? Well, there was no-one from television in the cast, and it wasn’t Shakespeare. Nor was it opera, ballet or pantomime.
It is not the first time I have seen first-rate theatre sparsely attended in the city. Do we have no further need of it? Is high culture the only temptation for some, and the paralysing deadness of reality TV opium enough for the rest?
Playwrights like Brecht take life seriously, which is why they can be so iconoclastically funny. Perhaps we are not serious enough about life. Or at any rate, not serious enough to want to find out more.
In the wrong place to judge
In Haiti untold thousands of people are dying. We sit at home and watch, and some of us send money.
Some of us know exactly what is going on, because we have newspapers and televisions. Or do we know? I rather like the story about Mother Teresa, who “knew exactly what was going on in the world, because she never read a newspaper”. Ben Hecht said that “trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand on a clock”.
We are not there; so while we can imagine what is going on, and see a minute part of it, we are in no position to pass judgement on those who try to help.
Some people see prayer as useless: they are entitled to their point of view, though of course they are wrong! But what is 100% certain is that being judgmental is worse than useless. Always.