The Jewish Wife / A Respectable Wedding
Young Vic, London SE1

Opened 4 April, 2007


The Young Vic gets to show off both its new studios in tandem with this first of two double bills of short plays by Bertolt Brecht. They can be seen in either order; a colleague advised me, "See The Jewish Wife second, because after it you won't want to laugh at anything," but on the contrary, after seeing it first I found myself all the more eager for comic relief.

I have often joked about director Katie Mitchell's fondness for dim lighting, but she strikes exactly the right note in the smaller Clare studio by eschewing stage lighting altogether. The middle-class bedroom set is lit only by a few ordinary domestic electric lamps, as Anastasia Hille's wife sets about packing her clothes and effects. After ten minutes, she speaks: in a series of phone calls, she gives transparent excuses for her departure to various friends and relatives. For this is one of Brecht's sketches from 1938's Fear And Misery In The Third Reich, and even before the wife practises a farewell speech to her husband's photograph, we are in no doubt why she is leaving. Nor does it surprise us that, when he does enter, the couple go through exactly the specious motions which the wife had earlier predicted and condemned. Martin Crimp's translation is as spare and direct as his Sophocles translation Cruel And Tender a few years ago.

In contrast, the much earlier A Respectable Wedding (1919), staged in the larger Maria space, is rendered in Rory Bremner's translation into a delicious comedy of embarrassment with no class-conflict edge to it at all. Joe Hill-Gibbins directs it as a squirming farce set in a doll's house of a set in which everything collapses piece by piece, along with the social niceties. The bride's father bores all with his anecdotes, her sister gets off with the best man in the kitchen, the groom's friend recites inappropriate verse and mixes alcohol with his medication, another married couple keep going for each other's and everyone else's jugular. Former History Boys James Corden and Russell Tovey head a fine cast of nine which also includes Doon MacKichan and Jemima Rooper. A second Brecht pairing opens later this month.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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