BRECHT IN PRACTICE
Historicization

As noted in the ‘Theory’ section, it is important to historicize a production in order to show the difference between the action portrayed at a particular historical moment and the values that inform the present of the audience.

Closer is set in the London of the mid-1990s. Costume, a traditional marker of historical period, proved unhelpful. Our research showed that there weren’t particular styles associated with the 1990s (in contrast to previous decades). Fashion had already become too eclectic to signify this period. Instead, the production sought out props that were historically accurate and used music from those years to locate the action aurally.

In addition, attention was paid to historical differences to signal that the action took place at a different time. When, for example, Dan talks about his work as an obituary writer to Alice in scene 1, he discusses the euphemisms he uses to add enjoyment to his work. He says: ‘“He was a convivial fellow”, meaning he was an alcoholic. “He valued his privacy” – gay’. The word ‘gay’ could be spoken loudly, as was ‘alcoholic’, but here it was delivered in a stage whisper, reflecting the different situation for gay people in the 1990s. That is, the delivery acknowledged the taboo present at that time, which called for the euphemism in the first place.

Similarly, the exchange between Dan and Larry in an internet chatroom, scene 3, was presented with behaviours more typical of the dawn of the virtual age rather than ones we associate with online activity today. For example, Larry only starts suspecting that he may be chatting with an imposter late in the scene, whereas contemporary users may be more wary of such ploys. To mark this moment, Larry rose from his desk and made to leave before being lured back. His responses to the online eroticism were also exaggerated, as if this were a brand new experience rather than something he did every night. In addition, Dan entered with his clunky laptop as if it were the sleekest, lightest object, which, of course, it was, back in the day.

Thus, the production as a whole looked to speeches and actions for their distance from today’s ideas and behaviours in order to highlight difference and confront the audience with representations of the past, even if that past was relatively recent. It should be clear that Brechtian historicization has little to do with a naturalistic costume drama. The latter seeks to convince the spectators that it is looking in on a slice of historical life; the former wants to signal a contrast between the past and the present, so that a jarring effect confronts the audience with a set of historical differences.

 

 


BRECHT IN PRACTICE - Copyright 2017 © Prof. David Barnett | All Rights Reserved

David Barnett
Professor of Theatre
University of York

Back