Plays

How Much Is Your Iron?

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Svendson is an ironmonger who suddenly picks up a new customer; apparently wealthy, and with a healthy desire for Svendson's wares, the customer keeps coming back with orders for iron bars.

Still, Svendson's conscience is pricked by this avid stockpiling of weapons (though not enough to stop selling; particularly when he sees some of his fellow merchants also selling to the customer, while his own orders continue to double).

Eventually though, Svendson's luck runs out, when the customer eventually stops paying his way.

Written in early 1939, How Much is Your Iron is a one-act agitprop piece that highlights the dangers of appeasement, and questions the morality of trade with a belligerent customer.

In the Jungle of Cities

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When lumber dealer Shlink meets book clerk George Garga, they immediately conceive an irrational hatred for each other and declare war between themselves. Their fighting engulfs and eventually destroys their families and the people around them. Depicting fraud, crime, and prostitution in an imagined version of Chicago, Brecht structured In the Jungle of Cities as a boxing match between two men who do not know why they are fighting.

Ever a revisionist, Brecht rewrote In the Jungle of Cities several times in the 1920s, finally settling on this version in 1927. When an earlier version premiered in Berlin, it was interrupted by Nazis in the audience throwing stink bombs and making noise. Brecht’s interest in the collision between the interests of capitalism and the good of the people is already evident in this early work.

The Life of Edward II of England

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Based on Christopher Marlowe’s classic play, The Life of Edward II of England dramatizes the life of the king who was deposed and eventually murdered by his wife and her lover. King Edward’s treatment of his favourite courtier, Gaveston, causes discontent among the English nobles, and provokes the Queen’s jealousy. She and her lover, Mortimer, raise an army, intending to put her son on the throne.

Although Brecht used Marlowe’s play as a source, he envisioned Edward II as a challenge to German Shakespearean traditions, which he considered stodgy and middle-class. One of Brecht’s early plays, Edward II contains the beginnings of the playwright’s ‘epic theatre’ style. It premiered at the Kammerspiele in Munich in 1924.

Life of Galileo (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals.

John Willett's translation is included here, along with the much shorter version translated in Brecht's lifetime by Charles Laughton as an appendix (see 'From the Book'). Also included are Brecht's own copious notes on the play.

Life of Galileo (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals. This version is translated by the great Brechtian scholar John Willett.

A Life of Galileo (trans. Ravenhill)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals. This version is translated by Mark Ravenhill.

Lux in Tenebris

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

Lux in Tenebris is a short farce about a moralist who campaigns for the closing of brothels. It demonstrates the influence of the great clown Karl Valentin, who would later become Brecht’s friend and collaborator.

Man equals Man

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

One of Brecht’s earliest works, Man Equals Man underwent many drafts before arriving at the version published here. Originally set in Bavaria, Brecht transposed the action to British India, drawing heavily from Kipling for influence and tone.

In The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, Brecht’s long-time English editor John Willett describes the plot:

‘Four private soldiers loot an Indian temple, but one is left behind. Terrified of their fierce Sergeant, they get Galy Gay, an Irish docker, to pose as the fourth man. By threats and blackmail he is forced to take this new identity. At the same time the missing soldier is presented as a miracle-working statue in the temple and the Sergeant, finishing up in civilian clothes is seen as a harmless drunk. Galy Gay witnesses his own supposed execution and funeral, and delivers the funeral speech. In the last two scenes he takes part in a war against Tibet and single-handedly reduces a fortress: he has become the perfect solider. The missing man tries to rejoin his comrades but is turned away with Galy Gay’s old identity papers.’

This translation of Man Equals Man by Gerhard Nellhaus was first published in 1979.

audio Mary Stuart

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Elizabeth I of England is threatened by the survival of her Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart. Wrestling with her own conscience, the Queen agonizes over Mary's fate, amidst fears for her own life. Court intrigue has never been more gripping than in this "acute study in the art of double-dealing politics." (The New York Times)

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Sheelagh Cullen, Kenneth Danziger, Seamus Dever, Jill Gascoine, Matt Gaydos, Martin Jarvis, Alex Kingston, Christopher Neame, Alan Shearman, W. Morgan Sheppard and Simon Templeman.

Featuring: Sheelagh Cullen, Kenneth Danziger, Seamus Dever, Jill Gascoine, Matt Gaydos, Martin Jarvis, Alex Kingston, Christopher Neame, Alan Shearman, W. Morgan Sheppard, Simon Templeman

Mary Stuart (trans. Harrower)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

One of European theatre's major plays, Schiller's masterpiece hinges on a brilliantly imagined meeting between Mary, Queen of Scots – focus of simmering Catholic dissent and her cousin Elizabeth, Queen of England, who has imprisoned her. Isolated by their duplicitous male courtiers, the women collide headlong, each wrestling with the rank, ambition and destiny their births have bestowed, against a thrilling background of intrigue, plot and counter-plot.

David Harrower's version of Mary Stuart premiered at the Citizen's Theatre, Glasgow, in October 2006.

It was not until the second half of the eighteenth century that Germany developed a dramatic literature to rival those of France, Spain or England. Until then the German speaking lands were divided into more than 300 independent states and were struggling to recover from the devastation caused by the Thirty Years War of the previous century. Rulers who took an interest in theatre tended to import Italian opera or French drama. Drama in German consisted of vernacular farces and the Haupt-und-Staats-Aktionen, bombastic historical dramas of little theatrical or literary merit. The development of German theatre was encouraged by the Englische Komödianten, groups of English actors who toured with versions of plays popular in England at the time, performing when and where they could to a popular audience.

The first attempts at improving the German drama were undertaken in the 1730s by Gottsched, whose translations of texts from French and English were performed by the theatre company of Karoline Neuber, who also symbolically staged a banning of the popular comic character Hanswurst from the stage.

The art critic and dramatist Lessing’s disappointment with the quality of plays produced at the new National Theatre in Hamburg, where he was employed in the late 1760s as Dramaturg, led him to write the Hamburgische Dramaturgie (Hamburg Dramaturgy), in which he suggested that Shakespeare would provide a better model for German writers to copy than French dramatists. Influenced by his studies of Aristotle and contemporary English drama, he also wrote three plays as examples for German playwrights to follow.

The writers of the explosive, but short-lived Sturm und Drang movement developed Lessing’s ideas and added a powerful new emotional charge to their plays. Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen and Schiller’s Die Räuber (The Robbers) broke new ground by drawing inspiration from Shakespeare, German history but above all nature. These works, along with the poetry of the movement, infused with natural imagery and driven by sentiment, would later serve as a major inspiration for the poets of the European Romantic movement.

Goethe and Schiller, the principal dramatists of the Sturm und Drang, then rejected the lack of discipline of the movement and developed the more refined and considered style of writing and acting known as Weimar Classicism. Schiller in particular wrote a series of history plays, including Don Carlos and Maria Stuart (Mary Stuart), which have formed the basis of the national repertoire ever since, and which established Germany as the leading theatre nation in Europe at the start of the nineteenth century. Goethe’s two-part poetic masterpiece Faust, only completed shortly before his death, has continued to challenge scholars and theatre directors alike since its publication. These works were inspired by Schiller’s Idealism and the conviction that the theatre should be a force for moral improvement. This concept inspires the high regard in which theatre is held in Germany and the generous level of public subsidy, which it has enjoyed ever since.

Despairing of Idealism and frustrated by the lack of response to his call for revolution in his pamphlet Der Hessische Landbote (The Hessian Courier), the scientist Büchner, despite his lack of theatrical experience, wrote four plays, three of which survive. In Dantons Tod (Danton’s Death) he employed documentary material to depict the despair of his hero with the Revolution, and in the unfinished Woyzeck, the first play in German to depict a working class hero, he blended factual material into a visionary expression of existential angst.

In the late nineteenth century, young writers, inspired by the writings of Zola, Darwin and Marx wanted to introduce a more scientific approach to theatre writing and bring the conditions of the underprivileged to the attention of theatregoers. Die Weber (The Weavers), by Gerhart Hauptmann, caused a riot and official sanctions when it was first produced in Berlin, but within two years the plays of European Naturalism had established themselves at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin.

The trauma of the First World War was reflected in the ecstatic and despairing texts of Expressionism. Early plays expressed a vision of Der Neue Mensch (The new Man), rising from the purifying fire of the war. As the true horror of the war in the trenches unfolded, this idea was changed in the writing of Ernst Toller, and subsequently Erwin Piscator, into the concept of the new collective, socialist Man.

Brecht’s ideas on the theatre have been hugely influential, as have the plays written by him and his collaborators. After his huge success with The Threepenny Opera in 1928, and his work with Piscator, he engaged in theatrical experiments, the Lehrstücke (Teaching Plays), in which he tried to involve the audience in a new relationship to the stage and the subject matter of the performances. Brecht always regarded Die Massnahme (The Measures Taken) as his most important play and a model for the future development of the theatre. These experiments came to abrupt end, however, when Brecht and Piscator were forced to leave Germany as Hitler assumed power in 1933.

During the Nazi period attempts were made by the authorities to restrict performances to approved propaganda plays, but these were so unpopular that theatres were soon allowed to revert to their previous programmes.

After the war Germany was left in ruins, with many of the theatre makers in exile. In Switzerland, however, Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt wrote plays, which combined black humour and symbolism to confront the post-war world. They addressed post-war guilt in Andorra, Biedermann und die Brandstifter (The Fireraisers) and Der Besuch der Alten Dame (The Visit) before moving on to consider the individual’s role in society.

On his return from exile in the USA Brecht set up his Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin. After his landmark production of Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and her Children) in 1949, he spent the next seven years directing his own texts, but also encouraging the work of young playwrights and directors. During the forty years of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) a game of cat-and-mouse was played out between playwrights and theatres and the authorities. Theatres played a particular and vital role in the GDR during this period, as well as in the demise of the regime, as they were one of the very few places where political issues could be addressed before a large audience. Playwrights such as Christoph Hein and Volker Braun offered veiled criticism of the regime, while Heiner Müller, the most innovative and outspoken playwright of the GDR, was silenced by being expelled from the Deutsche Schriftsteller-Verband (The German Writers’ Association). This meant that his work was not published, so it could not be produced in the GDR. His international reputation was secured by the staging of his texts in the West.

In the Federal Republic (West Germany), the use of documentary material for drama, which had been pioneered by Erwin Piscator before the war, was reintroduced by playwrights attempting to confront the exceptional subject matter of the Third Reich. Peter Weiss in Die Ermittlung (The Investigation) adapted testimony from the Frankfurt War Trials to present a harrowing account of conditions in Auschwitz, while Rolf Hochhuth indicted Pope Pius XII in Der Stellvertreter (The Representative) for his attitude to the treatment of Jews by the Nazis. These texts, among others, were championed by Piscator at the Freie Volksbühne in West Berlin.

Peter Handke caused controversy in 1966 with a staging of his Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience), and cemented his reputation in 1967 with Kaspar, a study of the way in which a character is defined by the language he acquires. He, like Botho Strauss, another innovative writer whose career began in the late 1980s, has aroused controversy for the political positions he has subsequently adopted.

Franz Xaver Kroetz felt that the peasants in Brecht’s plays were too articulate and in the mid-1970s used the Volksstück form, popular before the war, in his Stallerhof and Geisterbahn (Ghost Train), to give a voice to the underclass of Germany’s Economic Miracle.

For much of the post-war period, West German theatre has been dominated by Regietheater, the theatre of directors, such as Peter Stein and Luc Bondy, who have tended to make their reputations in productions of classic texts, but who also champion new playwriting. The high level of funding of theatre and the large number of theatres in Germany continues to support the most extensive and varied programme of new playwriting and innovative production activity in Europe. From the dense and challenging theatre texts of the Nobel Prize winning Austrian writer Elfriede Jellinek, to the unique theatre of Rimini Protokoll, who use non-professional actors and their experiences to build performances described as ‘Reality Trend’, theatre makers in Germany seek to challenge the traditional limitations of drama. Theatre critics select outstanding work from more than 100 plays premièred each year for the Mülheimer Theatertage festival of new playwriting, while the Berlin Theatertreffen foregrounds the best in theatre production.

Since the Wende (the fall of the communist regimes), the cost of reunification has resulted in reductions in state subsidy to the arts, but the theatre still continues to command the respect of the population and to play a central role in the cultural life of Germany.

Tony Meech, Senior Research Fellow, University of Hull