BRECHT IN PRACTICE
A (somewhat) Shouty Production?

Brecht was very suspicious of actors emoting too much on stage. He thought such gushing performances attached the audience to the actors too closely and rendered a critical relationship between the stage and auditorium difficult.

A play like The Crucible is full of high emotion, and Proctor’s impassioned speeches, especially in Acts III and IV, help connect the audience to his arguments. However, as stated elsewhere in the documentation, this Brechtian production sought to engender a critical presentation of Proctor and, indeed, other figures on stage. The question arises as to how figures like Proctor, who shout, bellow and bluster, were to be treated.

Proctor certainly did shout on a number of occasions, including times at which he lost his temper with Elizabeth in Act II. By working ‘gestically’, the production tried to frame the emotional outbursts in the wider social context of the play. That is, a figure’s emoting coincided with a particular physicality and/or gesture as in this clip:

 

 

Here, the stage image reveals Proctor as a bully and not someone with whom to identify. In a similar vein, his self-regarding appeals to the audience in Act IV were accompanied by a gesture that pointed to Proctor’s self-pity and invited a more critical distance to the figure from the spectator.

The Crucible also includes a powerful, potentially emotional climax at the end of Act III when the girls whip the Court into a frenzy by imaging an apparition that is about to attack them. In many conventional productions, there is much shouting and screaming, as feigned terror grips the girls, and the Court struggles to deal with the commotion.

In this production, the sequence of actions was broken down into its component parts as much as possible. Each actor knew precisely what they were doing, and so the potential chaos of the scene unfolded carefully before the audience’s eyes. While voices were raised, it was not as if the whole cast was caught up in the turmoil. Rather, the credulous adults looked in the direction of the apparition suggested by the girls, while the critical adults stared at the girls. The girls gave a tight performance themselves: they audibly breathed in unison, suggesting supernatural possession, and later whispered the Lord’s Prayer together as an ironic nod to their ungodly deeds. As a result, the stage told its story as clearly as possible in a bid to show that the girls’ attempt to justify themselves as credible witnesses was its own orchestrated performance.

Brechtian theatre has the means at its disposal to contextualize emotional acting by treating the emotions on stage as elements of a larger social system. Actors are always aware that their deliveries are being relativized by their physicality, their precise movements and/or the responses of the other figures on stage. As a result, the shouting and emoting often associated with The Crucible took on a different quality, one that invited the audience to view the outbursts with greater distance.

 


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

David Barnett
Professor of Theatre
University of York

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