If you don’t know much about the Paris Commune of 1871, there’s a simple solution: got to see Bertolt Brecht’s last original play, showing at the White Bear Theatre.
The Days of the Commune is a detailed, practically blow-by-blow depiction of the events of what’s often considered the textbook proletarian revolution, from the fall of the Government of National Defence to the fall of the Commune. Indeed, in the staging here, we get on a chalkboard a record of each scene’s date and location.
That makes it sound a bit like a dry documentary, but it’s far from that.
In this lively and dynamic staging by the new Gunpowder Theatre, crisply directed by Genevieve Girling, there’s plenty of action, and if we never really get close to any individual character, we do get an emotional attachment to the whole community of the Rue Pigalle, around which the action is centred – although we do hop off to Berlin to see quisling Adolphe Thiers (nicely done by Theo Devaney, who also plays the conniving Bank of France governor) cringing as he sells out his country.
The play, happily, makes much of the feminist aspects of the Commune, centring particularly around the teacher Genevieve Guericault – her travails in trying to gain access to the resources of the ministry of education is one of the few really comedic scenes in the play.
It’s ambitious to stage a revolution in the tiny space of the White Bear’s stage, yet here the whole event is carried off with panache. Effective use is made of a nicely-done backdrop panorama and a heavy cannon that almost becomes a character in its own right.
If there are scenes that are less successful it’s the debates in the Commune, which do sometimes drag on rather (no doubt just like the real thing), and sometimes see the actors shouting over each other a little too realistically.
The cast of nine have many characters to portray. Mostly they carry it off, although sometimes it is a little distracting until you work out which hat the actor is wearing this scene.
But, as so often at the White Bear, this is a production whose ambition is to be applauded, and enjoyed.
The production continues until 30 October, with online booking. Tickets £13/£10.