East of Berlin and Julius Caesar

I've been having an ongoing discussion with a friend about audience expectations of theatre. He went to see We Will Rock You and was thrilled because it was fun. "People go to a show to have their burdens lifted, to belong to the audience and to share an experience."

I agreed that shared experience is the important element. But I believe that while audiences sometimes desire entertainment, sometimes they desire to be stimulated, to be challenged. I used East of Berlin as my example. The lead character is the son of a Nazi war criminal, and the play is his story. He is witty and funny, with a refreshing sense of candor and honesty. Coupled with incredible writing and two strong supporting characters, the play carries us along in our shared experience. The ending is not a happy one, yet audiences are walking out raving about the play. The entire run sold out a week after it opened and its remount next year has already been announced.

Does this sound like a dissatisfied audience? I don't think so.

I do want to touch upon one other thing about this show. Most of the influential reviewers thought the lead role was miscast, saying that Brendan Gall looked too contemporary for the play, which is set in the early 70s. I found Brendan wonderful. It's an incredibly tricky role and he navigated it beautifully. And as a resolute cross-caster, I take exception to the whole idea that someone has to have the right look for a role. To me, that's one of the things that distinguishes theatre from film and TV. I firmly believe that if you cast a good actor who has the right qualities for the role, the audience will forget the appearance within five minutes and commit themselves to the journey. The audiences for East of Berlin have been. It seems to me to be a generational thing, because I never hear these kind of complaints from my contemporaries, only from older theatregoers and makers. I would be happy to never hear talk of a look ever again.

I also went and saw Julius Caesar. The design blew my mind, especially the sound. Huge shout-out to the designers - fantastic work. The staging is bold, which I felt was the production's greatest strength. There's a definite unevenness amongst the actors, but I found Mark Antony, Portia, Cassius and Brutus to be the strong so it wasn't a major hindrance to the show.

The biggest problem I have is the overarching idea of showing a society with mob rule. The moments that the director, Anthony Furey, added in to fit the concept I found slowed the action down. Watching the mob run around screaming and killing people was uninteresting. The battle scenes went on way too long with the addition of a segment with Brutus facing the ghosts of his co-conspirators the most glaring problem. And the final image goes against the spirit of the play and does a 180 on Mark Antony that I feel sabatoges the character.

Despite this, it is a show worth catching. It's running until the end of this week.

In his director's notes, Anthony talks about minority governments being shackles for the passionate individual (although this section is strangely missing from the online version). I disagree. Historically in Canada, it has been with minority governments that the largest changes to our nation have occured. I believe that effective minority governments require passionate leadership. It is the passionate leader that has the power to change opinions. It is passion that sparks lasting action. And it is passion that makes life worth living.

One last comment. I'm relived that there is finally a change of government in Australia. It will be interesting to see what happens for the theatre community there now.


Donald said…
I was going to see East of Berlin ... going to see it ... going to see it ... missed seeing it.

Glad to hear it may be back next year, I'll do better then.