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Schaubühne, Berlin

Ever tried
Ever failed
No matter
Try again
Fail again
Fail better

We encounter Beckett’s famous instructions upon a blackboard at the forefront of the stage before Peter Kleinert’s revamped production of Brecht’s The Mother commences. The words resonate throughout the production on two levels.

Firstly, they resonate on a materialist level, capturing the trials and tribulations inherent in capitalist ideology which the maternal protagonist of Brecht’s drama overcomes in the name of Communism. Brecht’s 1932 epic Lehstrucke, or learning play, was written as a socio-economic critique of modern society. The drama casts its eye back to Russia, 1917, resurrecting Maxim Gorky’s novel of the same title. The Mother overcomes economic instability and repression, the death of her son and her own illiteracy as she emerges victoriously, brandishing Bolshevism’s red flag aloft heroically. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Ursula Werner, a member if the Maxim Gorky theatre ensemble for over three decades, produces and assured and confident portrayal of Brecht’s protagonist, which binds an otherwise baggy production together.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Kleinert’s epithet similarly resonates with the production’s ambitious and often erratic experimentation. Brecht’s epic stretches over fourteen scenes; the beginning of each scene is announced by a cast member and promises a meander in some other direction. Kleinert’s direction accommodates the Ernst Busch cast’s pining for something new, modern. The revolutionary climate of Brecht’s world is morphed towards that of the twenty-first century, protesters chant ACAB (All Cops are Bastards) whilst other protesters flash their breasts. Hanns Eisler’s original string score is performed by a rock band and the audience are even ‘treated’ to some rapping. Inevitably, these revamps confront us with the equilibrium between, how much do we need to alter, or freshen up older productions without detracting from their original message, or atmosphere. Some scenes work more successfully than others, but this is not for want of passion or effort.

Overall, Kleinert’s production is enjoyable. It is bound together by Ursula Werner’s virtuoso performance, acting as an encumbered, assuring constancy amidst the dramatic experimentation unfolding around her. Kleinert’s production is like a diorama, from which the audience can observe the ups and downs of transforming drama to meet modern agendas, whilst casting an ambitious idea towards the future. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Keep up the hard work, guys.

  • Drama
  • By Bertolt Brecht
  • Directed by Peter Kleinert
  • Co-produced with Ernst Busch University of Dramatic Arts
  • Schaubühne, Berlin
  • Review by Sam Pengelly
  • 18 July 2016

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

A couple of years ago Sam resigned to the fact that he was not going to make it as a professional footballer. Now, studying in the final year of his undergraduate degree of English Language and Literature at University College London, he is passionate about a broad range of literature. In particular, he loves the works of Pinter, Stoppard and all of the crazy twentieth century absurdist dramas. Sam also writes and performs poetry around London, and also enjoys making music with his band, Connor’s Yoghurt.

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