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Orbits at the Drayton Arms Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 25th Feb 2017 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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  Do you have inner bravery or inner cowardice?

During the Nazi regime, many German artists and writers fled to America, among them Bertolt Brecht. He collaborated with Charles Laughton on his play Life of Galileo to get his big break on Broadway and Laughton felt that working with Brecht would add some extra spice to his stagnant career. Wally Sewell's play focuses on this collaboration and the clash of two big egos. 

The performance begins with Charles Laughton (Edmund Dehn) rehearsing a scene as Galileo who is being questioned by the Inquisitor, played by Bertolt Brecht (Peter Saracen). Galileo attempts to navigate his way out of an accusation of heresy whilst the Inquisitor quietly listens and observes. When Galileo is finished, the Inquisitor is not satisfied. Neither is Bertolt Brecht.

The power structure of the play within a play somewhat reflects the relationship between the two men, both of whom have something to hide - Brecht his communist ideas, Laughton his homosexuality. Whereas Laughton is in awe of Bertolt Brecht, calling him a writer as great as Shakespeare, Brecht dismisses Laughton's work, especially his appearances on the radio, sponsored by Lux Soap. He expects Laughton to be pure as an artist, not selling out and giving in to commercialism. Laughton takes Brecht's slights with good humour. As their collaboration continues, the power balance shifts - Brecht is summoned by HUAC because of his communist leanings, which suddenly puts him out of favour and turns him into a persona non grata. 

Although Sewell bases his play on real events, the portrayal of the characters and the dialogue is fictitious. The Brecht character does not resemble Brecht any more than Peter Shaffer's Mozart resembles the real Mozart. Sewell draws Brecht as an arrogant and rude artiste who feels superior to Laughton and despises the superficial life in California and the commercialism of the U. S. Because of his unbearable arrogance and complete lack of any positive qualities, the sympathies of the audience are entirely with Charles Laughton, who also had a gigantic ego but is portrayed as a reasonable man expecting at least some appreciation for his work from the man whom he admires so much.

I first saw this production in April 2015 at the White Bear Theatre with the same cast and director. It remains an intriguing play because it discusses important issues but it would be more exciting and convincing if the characters were equally weighted. Edmund Dehn is very good as Charles Laughton, playing his character with quiet authority and a gentle sense of humour. Peter Saracen does his best with the rather unappealing Bertolt Brecht character.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 11th March 2017

Drayton Arms Theatre

Please read my original review here: http://www.uktheatre.net/magazine/read/orbits-at-the-white-bear-theatre_2730.html

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