Review of Bertolt Brecht, Meg Mumford (London & New York: Routledge 2009)

Denise Varney


Bertolt Brecht by Meg Mumford is part of the Routledge Performance Practitioners series that offers introductory guides to the key theatre-makers of the twentieth century for students. Each volume in the series follows a format that covers biographical information, explanation of key theoretical writings, a glossary, descriptions of significant productions and practical exercises. While they combine the functions of textbook, guide and student handbook, each is underpinned by new research that assists with the re-interpretation of old knowledge. In the case of Brecht, Mumford has sourced a number of images of the plays in production including rare images of the 1950 Berliner Ensemble production of The Tutor to illustrate the gestus of showing. She also reproduces the youthful Brecht’s only stage appearance as Benny-the-musician in a Karl Valentin cabaret from 1920 that I have only seen elsewhere in Joel Schechter’s edited collection Popular Theatre

The book sets in motion a trajectory that sees a rebellious young poet resisting authority; a maverick socialist who can’t bring himself to join the communist party; a dissident artist in Hitler’s Germany; an émigré in the US, capitalism’s world head-quarters and finally a theatre director in the Soviet-run GDR, troubled by the authoritarianism of the regime but supportive of the dictatorship of the proletariat, observing but not participating in the workers’ strike of 1953 and working all the time on the idea of epic theatre. (Let’s get the elephant on page one out of the way right now. Brecht’s dates are 1889-1956 not 1989-1956: an acute and embarrassing error for all concerned but not indicative of the book as a whole.)

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