That Brecht was a nasty piece of work, and he didn’t even write his own plays
- The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht by John Fuegi
HarperCollins, 732 pp, £25.00, July 1994, ISBN 0 00 255386 4
I have never read a life like John Fuegi’s of Brecht. Revisionism doesn’t begin to describe it. This is dartboard stuff, effigy abuse, voodoo biography. If Fuegi could get inside the Dorotheenfriedhof, uproot Brecht’s jagged scalene headstone, dig through six feet of Brandenburg sand and a zinc coffin, and do something to the remains involving chicken heads, inverted crosses and black candles, I don’t doubt that he would. In an epigraph over his preface – the first words in the book, effectively – he quotes an oblique little exchange from Waiting for Godot:
Vol. 16 No. 21 · 10 November 1994
Did Brecht ‘write’ his plays (LRB, 20 October)? Did Fassbinder ‘write’ his films?
My experience of Brecht is limited to a production of Baal at Oval House, Kennington, about twenty years ago. As the set designer I was to assemble scrap building materials, scaffold poles and furniture from a skip onto the stage. The director, Bill Martin, had collected a disorderly bunch of actors, seemingly off the streets. (He was short of ‘maggots’ and tried to persuade me to join them, but the thought of crawling around the stage with a lot of other maggots, naked bar underpants, was too much for me.) Though Brecht hovered determinedly, the play seemed designed as a ‘scratch’ event to be performed by a scratch team. It was as if this ragged bunch of otherwise hooligans were roaming the streets, looking for right moments and right places and a few onlookers (anybody would do) before whom to make a ‘scene’. Brecht seemed not so much the author as the one who was leading them on.
The performance attracted enough attention to bring Alan Sillitoe in one evening; which reminds me that I also contrived sets for Mother Goose. This performance was elevated to the Cockpit Theatre. As I had to be on hand backstage during the performance, I was allowed to sit in the foyer bar. One evening it was completely empty except for one small, pretty woman who, it appeared, had been stood up. She was a very charming and lively person and we had a nice, warm chat. Just before she left I said I felt sure we had met somewhere before. She said that we hadn’t but that she was ‘Lulu’. She was, of course, the pop singer and not Alan Berg’s tragic heroine come to haunt Brecht’s play.