Long walks down the beach, nights at the movies, punching Nazis – these are the things that really butter my biscuit. When I heard that there was a play running about punching Nazis, I simply could not have been more excited! Then I found out I wasn’t going to be allowed to punch a Nazi. I was distraught! What happened to good old-fashioned Brechtian audience interaction? Instead, all I was offered was the potential opportunity to blitz a goldfish in a blender, and a long story about Siamese twins by a woman in a fancy-dress rabbi hat. Somewhat less cathartic and satisfying than ramming one’s fist into the cheek of a bigot.
This was, however, exactly what was successful about mielspiel’s production. The level of grit required to get through the more philosophically complex sections could have paved Route 66. But, this managed to stop what would have made the production a failure; being conducive to the audience feeling morally superior and purified. Allowing the audience to feel good ‘cos they’ve gone to a play wot bashes Nazism.
The idea of an event inspiring personal release as opposed to inspiring change is something of particular relevance today when one looks at the manner in which the protests against Steve Bannon and Marion le Pen took place and is a phenomenon that is increasingly common. However, in this production it was clear the director had taken the words of Brecht to heart and did not intend I punched a Nazi to simply ‘satisfy the habits of its audience’. No main message was clearly presented to be accepted. The play was, in fact, unbelievably frustrating in the extent it forced you to engage. Brecht’s alienation effect was used to an absolute T, everything that was happening on stage was clearly presented as theatre and artifice, the smugness and passivity of the watching audience was banished.
The play was also compelling in the way it subverted the expectations it had built for itself. It wasn’t really about Nazis, in particular, nor was it, in fact, a love story (despite the idea that it was both those things being conveyed to the audience at various intervals). Frankly, I would say it came closer to a lecture series than it did The Notebook. This continual concept subversion did lead to a large amount of audience confusion, which was what truly made the production. Initial qualms such as why their representation of Brecht was played by a woman in white clout goggles and whether it was really okay to be taking about fatal surgery on infants using a toy baby with an Adolf Hitler moustache led to a querying mindset. With this audience mindset induced, deeper questioning was inspired through subtly posing ideas about whether violence is ever the correct response, and to what degree any action can be considered a response rather than an opening act. After seeing it one continually thought about the questions of the foggy lines between right and wrong which it raised. By inspiring this questioning mindset, I punched a Nazi did exactly what it needed to do.