(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/12.)
Brecht wrote this collection of short plays about Nazi Germany between 1935 and 1938, when he was in exile. Phil Willmott, using the John Willett translation, has omitted some of the 24 pieces that make up the sequence but, as director, has fashioned a chilling evening that reinforces Brecht’s point that nazism was not simply a force of nature but a political movement that could have been opposed.
The plays are linked by a narrator, music and some astute cross-casting. But the power of the work rests heavily on three substantial pieces. In The Jewish Wife, last revived by Katie Mitchell at the Young Vic in 2007, Clara Francis hauntingly plays the eponymous heroine who, in order to protect her gentile husband, prepares to leave home under the pretence of taking a brief holiday. There is also a macabre wit to the superb scene in which a husband and wife (Willmott himself and Francis) live in fear of being denounced by their son, a member of the Hitler Youth movement, over incautiously critical remarks about the regime. In Judicial Process, Brecht offers a withering account of the contortions a judge has to go through as he prepares to try a case involving an attack on a Jewish jeweller.