Watching and Learning about Bertolt Brecht

Noorlinah Mohamed

July 11, 2014

Bertolt Brecht in 8 Steps
By Nora Samosir and Sharon Frese

Response by Charlene Rajendran
Corresponding SIFA show: Peter Pan by Berliner Ensemble
Contributor: Koay Yi Ling

Within 10 minutes of the house opening, all seats were filled at the performance space of 72-13. Students could be seen with notebooks perched on their laps, ready to scribble down whatever wisdom they could tease out from this performance. There were also educators and several perennial O.P.E.N. Pass holders, those die-hard fans who have attended all most every single O.P.E.N. event since it opened on 26 June. They were in for a treat, dished out by two of Singapore’s most established theatre practitioners – Nora Samosir and Sharon Frese – in Bertolt Brecht in 8 Steps.

Oh boy, was it a treat. I call this a Brechtian performance of Brecht Theatre – dual layers that reinforce the attributes that define Brecht Theatre. Everyday items were used as props; placards to demarcate scenes, a wooden walking stick as weapon, a mug as a phone and a shawl signified a baby, a dog and other objects. The use of music and multimedia, coupled with Nora and Sharon’s imperfect singing, awkward marching and didactic speeches at the podiums, provided visual and auditory examples of what their dialogues were trying to explain.

The two actresses were clearly having fun on stage and with mentions of ‘Gestus’, ‘Verfremdungseffekt’, ‘Gesamtkuswerk’ and ‘4th wall’, students in the audience could be seen hunched over their notebooks. For me, this was a good refresher course on Brecht; the first encounter being my first year at university six years ago, with Nora Samosir as the class tutor no less! Bertolt Brecht in 8 Steps is a preparatory programme for the performance of Peter Pan on the 11th, 12th and 13th of September by Berliner Ensemble at the Singapore International Festival of Arts. It is worth mentioning that Bertolt Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel, were the people who established the Berliner Ensemble in 1949.

Nora and Sharon’s performance lasted 45 minutes and was followed by a response from the brilliant Charlene Rajendran. She spoke on how Brecht’s influence can be seen in the plays and theatres of Southeast Asia during the ‘60s and ‘70s – from Kuo Pao Kun to wayang kulit in Indonesia. The event ended with a Q&A session that would have made Brecht himself beam with pride. As the panel on stage was rousing to what might have become a heated discussion (with Ken Sen shouting from the side “It IS Brecht!” to Nora’s “No, that isn’t really Brecht”), Noorlinah cut them off, saying that the event has concluded.

  • 2014