BRECHT IN PRACTICE
Treatment of Stage Directions

Patrick Marber’s script for Closer may not match an Ibsen or a Chekhov in writing paragraphs of detailed instructions, yet there is a great deal of physical direction and it is full of detailed directions for how actors are to deliver their lines.

The latter vary from more standard ‘tough’ or ‘angry’ prefacing a line or speech to a more detailed typological system in the lines themselves that uses capitalization, italicization, underlining, sometimes both italics and underlining together, to emphasize words or indicate changes in tone.

Such directions to the actors, in terms of what they are doing or how they are speaking, were largely ignored when rehearsing the production. This is because the directions mostly aim to reproduce speech and action as they are encountered in everyday life. A Brechtian production seeks to look behind the everyday to uncover social factors that may inform everyday behaviours and connect them back to society. The actors would indeed sometimes note that the script said one thing while we were doing something else, yet what is important in a Brechtian production is to establish socially based relationships, and these may be overlooked in the text.

In terms of the action, take, for example, scene 10, that takes place in Larry’s private surgery. As the documentation shows, this production exploited Marber’s instruction to provide a ‘surgery bed’ to develop a discourse around the medical profession and how Larry views women. Dan initially reclined in the bed and talked to Dan as if he were a psychiatric patient. Later, the two men imagined Alice lying on the bed and cast their male gaze at ‘her’ while trying to determine where her scar came from.

Or consider the following treatment of the directions. In scene 11, Alice finally sees through Dan for the egotist he is: he demands that she confess that she slept with Larry although he had already established that fact in the previous scene. It is important for his to elicit a confession. In other words, Dan treats Alice like an object that can be made to do this or that to please him. This backfires when she finishes with him as a result of his insensitivity. We wanted to signify that all was not well earlier in the scene when Dan recalls the taxi journey to the hospital that precedes scene 1. It reads:

Dan:       The cabbie saw me kiss you… He said, ‘Is she yours?’ and I said, ‘Yes… she’s mine’.

He kisses her forehead, holds her close.

 

In this production, he didn’t kiss her, but help her shoulder in such a way that suggested he saw her as his property, a gesture also seen in scene 2 when Dan brings Alice into Anna’s studio. This was an important moment because i. it hopefully reminded the audience of his behaviour towards Alice earlier and ii. it clearly represented his attitude towards her in the present. As a result, it was necessary to ignore the stage direction in the greater interests of the relationships onstage and the politics that lay behind them.

In terms of directions affecting delivery, consider the following exchange from scene 8, when Anna tries to justify sleeping with Larry one last time:

Anna:    If Alice came to you… desperate… with all that love still between you and she said she needed you to want her so that she could get over you, you would do it. I wouldn’t like it either but I would forgive you because it’s… a mercy fuck – a sympathy fuck. Moral rape, everyone does it. It’s… kindness.

Dan:       No, it’s cowardice.

 

The directions in Anna’s speech make perfect sense if Anna is understood as someone struggling her way through a thought that even she finds absurd. In this production, however, Anna’s lack of empathy for Dan, driven by her upper-class sense of entitlement, meant that the speech was delivered as a single, insincere excuse, with no need for added emphasis as directed. Dan, correspondingly, didn’t need to place additional stress on ‘cowardice’ and stated the line plainly, having heard this kind of response from Anna before.

 

 

 


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

David Barnett
Professor of Theatre
University of York

Back