Theatre review: That Bastard Brecht, Paradise in Augustines

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“So, what made you choose this?” a woman asks an older couple queuing for the show. “We like Brecht,” is the reply. However, this new musical from David Dunn and Australian company NUWORKS has a mainstream, upbeat feel, lots of bohemian energy and catchy songs, despite also exploring the life of the avante-garde playwright.

That Bastard Brecht, Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152) ****

But the real focus is the women in Brecht’s life, his lovers and co-workers, in particular writer Elizabeth Hauptmann – empathetically played by Tove Berkhout – who was the co-writer of The Threepenny Opera and it is thought wrote the majority of the piece during her time in Berlin. Unfortunately, since this is the 1920s, Elizabeth’s attempts to be recognised as a writer too don’t get her far. “You’re a very beautiful 
woman,” says Mark Howard, as the rockstar playwright Brecht. “It hasn’t helped me get published,” she pertinently replies.

Nevertheless, she’s soon part of a Cabaret-style chorus line of Brecht’s women, including his wife Helena and other lovers/collaborators – each of whom the cast give strong, individual voices to. Squeezed into a double bed with Brecht, the arrangement is depicted as jolly good fun and part of a progressive lifestyle that serves ‘the art’ – which it does.

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There’s only one problem: the Nazis are coming. As the characters make frivolous jokes about Hitler, it’s a pertinent reminder of the results of not taking sinister right-wing movements seriously.

In the second half, Elizabeth’s story gets drowned out by Howard embracing Brecht’s volatile, egotistical, bullying side. But the play does a good job of showing women not held captive, but “captivated by” the playwright. As it concludes, they were “young and fearless” and shaped the future.

For anyone looking to break boundaries in theatre today, it’s a refreshing reminder of a man but also his female comrades who did it first.

• Until 25 August, 9:35pm.