Post-War British Historical Drama
2. Robert Bolt: Between Metonymy and Synecdoche
The beginnings of Robert Bolt’s writing career take place at a very important time for the development of the British historical drama. In September 1956, Britain was visited by the Berliner Ensemble presenting the work of its head – Bertolt Brecht. In his account of the tour, Martin Esslin (1971: 75) notes the peculiar character of the reception of his ideas on drama and theatre. The playwright himself had died a short time before the tour, and “his note urging the members of the company to play lightly and not too slowly to please an English audience was one of his last public pronouncements.” The company presented three plays, two of which were Brecht’s masterpieces (Mother Courage and her Children and The Caucasian Chalk Circle). The lack of enthusiasm on behalf of the critics (whose reaction Esslin 1971: 75 describes as “on the whole lukewarm”) was matched by a very vigorous response from theatre practitioners. The peculiarity of the situation was that most of them were unable to understand the German spoken by the actors and, therefore, the first wave of Brecht’s influence in Britain concentrated on elements such as the minimalistic stage design or the use of songs and banners in a theatrical performance (Esslin 1971: 76). The superficial reception of Brecht’s theatre in Britain pointed out by Esslin also has to do with the fact that while his theoretical writings were to remain unavailable in English until the mid-sixties, the British directors often misunderstood some of the methods proposed...
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