Monday, 16 February 2015

Mark Thomson on Brecht and Beyond...

Mark Thomson is the artistic director of The Lyceum, in
Edinburgh. When I asked him for a chat about his upcoming production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, he was generous enough to give me too much for the article... here is the complete interview...

What is it about Brecht that has made him such a looming presence in the theatre of the last half century? Do you have a particular love for his approach and ideas about theatre?

I think anyone who enters their place of work and challenges on the two fronts of WHY are we doing this and HOW should we do this is key in the development of any profession or art form. 

 It’s difficult to overestimate the influence he had but the truth is that a lot of what he brought is inherent in standard theatre “think” now. 
 The idea that Brecht always wanted you to be aware and acknowledge the truth that this is a group of actors who are telling this story and not “pretending” that we “are” this or that person is keenly theatrical. 
It doesn't mean he’s not serving truth – he’s just challenging how we create truths and saying that it might not always be through trying to be “real.” The thing I keep talking about with the company is to abandon consistency. 
Caucasian shifts restlessly from one style to another, from naturalism to singing to crazy carnivalesque creatures. And each needs tending to and doesn't want smoothed out. The other thing is that for Brecht there was no such thing as a “character” that stood and remained definitive throughout a play. The “situation” was key to understanding why people did the things they did. 
So, a raping Sergeant is a rapist because of his circumstance of war. Monsters are born from monstrous situations. In another war-less universe he’s a father taking his daughter for swimming lessons.

And the Chalk Circle: why did you go for this script at this time?
I felt that the theatre needed to articulate or respond to the times we are in where there seems an unstoppable march toward widening the gap between the rich and the poor; when those who govern are led by power rather than principle. 

 Even in theatre it’s interesting that we have people like Brian Cox and Julie Walters are questioning whether the they could have entered the profession now and are we going to have very little working class actors entering the profession in which case there is a huge challenge to the stage’s ability to reflect the society it is supposed to be representing. 

 So Caucasian really simply says there might be another way of thinking. It has the boldness of a parable in the truths it identifies but has a wonderfully complex political and human understanding that is celebrated by vivid, musical, comedic and emotional theatre.

Does the CCC fit well with the general identity of the Lyceum?
I don't recognize the idea of the Lyceum Theatre having an identity. It’s a place of the imagination. A space where stories are told to another group of people. It’s a human place where views are exchanged, worlds are brought to life through word, picture, sound and light. The walls disappear and no one is looking at the chandelier when the act of theatre is successful.

Does working on this large scale present any unexpected challenges?

Not unexpected but it certainly does. And by challenges I don’t think negatively. I have a company of 13, eight of whom are multi instrumentalists, one who is an expert puppeteer, somewhere is the region of 40 locations and over a hundred characters and an amazing epic journey of a story about an extraordinary young woman. 

 What I love about the whole idea of companies like the Lyceum is that we have Faith Healer on and it’s a three hander, monologues – people and words. And now we’re in a carnivalesque storytelling with different demands, offers, tone. The quixotic leaps from show to show energize and transform the space where we meet our audience and defines it as a place of surprise that provokes your mind and senses and makes you feel more alive than before you entered the room. 

And as Brecht might agree, if you feel more alive you'll feel more capable of change. And Brecht’s great optimism is that he believed people/we can change. And boy oh boy I think we all know we need to.

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