Tag: Verfremdungseffekt

Edinburgh Fringe Preview Part I: Dystopian nightmare in The Project

project

It was clear from the beginning that The Project was going to be a disconcerting piece of theatre. Produced by members of the Nottingham New Theatre ahead of their stint at next month’s Edinburgh Fringe, this dystopian nightmare pushes the boundaries of conventional theatre and subverts the idea that we can sink back in the darkness and let it all wash over us.

As I took my seat I noticed that the cast members were sitting amongst us writing notes. A woman who resembled a mannequin stared straight ahead of us in the middle of the stage. She was wearing a jaundiced-yellow lipstick and it soon emerged that she was the subject of some kind of bizarre, quasi-medical experiment. The director – played by an actor – addressed the audience directly, telling us that the play would depend on our reactions to it. At various points the performance is deconstructed, forcing us to challenge our preconceptions of what a piece of theatre should be.

The experiment itself was extremely sinister. The woman is forced to do things against her will as the other characters continue on their quest to ‘cure’ her. Meanwhile, the director looks on, taking a perverse pleasure in his experiment, blind to the fact that he may be hurting someone in the name of art.

In many ways, The Project reminded me of  Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, an allegorical play which shows how people’s passivity allowed Hitler to rise to power. Like Brecht’s masterpiece, The Project makes good use of Verfremdungseffekt – or alienation technique – to remind the audience that like all art theatre is artificially conceived. By not getting too comfortable, we are able to consider some of the ethical challenges a performance can pose.

Overall, this was a fascinating piece of physical theatre and the actors made good use of the performance space. The dialogue was elegant and the narrative purposefully draws the audience in before reminding them that this was indeed a performance rather than real-life. A bold experiment – and one which paid off.

You can see The Project at Zoo Monkey House at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

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The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: A lesson from history at Nottingham Playhouse

My German teacher at school used to say that Bertolt Brecht did not want you to sit back at the theatre and eat a packet of Malteser’s while immersing yourself in the play.

Being a passive member of the audience is not an option with Brecht. He pioneered a theatrical technique called Verfremdungseffekt (alienation) which reminds us that we are watching a dramatic production so we must make moral and intellectual judgements rather than be swept away by sentimentality.

This is certainly the case with The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which opened at Nottingham Playhouse this week. Characters, who had white painted faces, step outside the narrative; a cigarette is lit up in front of the fire safety curtain and the central character Arturo Ui enters from a door at the back of the theatre.

Despite these dramatic techniques, this is one of Brecht’s more accessible plays. It is set in during the Great Depression in 1930s Chicago when mobsters and corrupt businessmen ruled the city.

But beneath its Hollywood veneer, this is a dark satire on Hitler’s rise to power. It is the tale of Arturo Ui, who starts out as a lowly criminal and ends up holding a cast iron grip over the city’s vegetable trade with his protection rackets.

Brecht, who wrote the play while exiled in Finland in 1941, leaves us in no doubt of his intentions. Each character correlates to a person from the Nazi era and every event is one that has actually taken place, for example the warehouse fire trial is the Reichstag fire trial. We are also told via electronic signs about the historical event before the fictional one is played out, once again leaving us in no doubt that these events really happened.

The script, which is a new translation by Stephen Sharkey, was brought to life brilliantly by the cast members, including Giri (played by Mike Goodenough), who depicts a thug-like Goering with remarkable skill and the stately but corrupt Dogsborough who was played by Eliot Giuralarocca and represented President Hindenburg.

Meanwhile, Ian Bartholomew was captivating as Arturo Ui. He was at once powerful and pathetic, comic and unnerving. He body language was spot on and he really came into his own when he delivered his final speech. In this scene, a Nazi film reel forms the backdrop while Ui, elevated high on a lectern and surrounded by terrified looking people, addresses the audience. It is a chilling reminder us that we have all been complicit in his rise to power. As with Hitler, it is not that the people supported him; rather it was the fact that we were passive enough to allow it to happen.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is on until 12th November. For tickets click here. Follow on Twitter #arturouri.

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