The David Fragments – Samuel Beckett Theatre – Review by Frank L.
The David Fragments – After Bertolt Brecht
The genesis of this theatrical performance is important to assimilate. The director and co-creator, Nicholas Johnson, in the programme notes states:
“Brecht’s David … boasts incomplete source material written in oblique and poetic German, contradictory structural outlines, limited instructions, and no performance history in English…
… After two years of research, collaboration and discovery … the backbone of this project is composed of two seemingly complete scenes – David & Saul (B9) and the extended street scene (B10) – other elements have been devised through workshops around Brecht and his milieu, or scripted as new dialogue and then refined in rehearsal. After initial translation and readings of Brecht’s source material in 2015, this ensemble has worked in studios since May 2016 to give voice to his words or to embody his concepts and contexts, generally in short bursts of performance or intensive workshops…”
The ensemble consists of ten actors. The set takes the form of a large circle on the floor with a desk and some chairs at the periphery. At the back of the stage is a large screen onto which various images and texts are projected.
On arriving into the auditorium eight of the ensemble are within the circle gyrating in what seems spontaneous movements but given the overall interlocking of the gyrations this is the first evidence of the intensive periods of rehearsal. All seems to be proceeding in an ordered, if not easy to comprehend manner, when there is a shout from two audience members who emerge on stage as if they had come from the cast of a Threepenny Opera. They too are part of the ensemble it transpires. The importance to Brecht and his familiarity with the Bible and in particular the stories surrounding Saul, David and Bathsheba are revealed in inventive ways with the world of Andre Gide being added to the mix.
The David Ensemble and Nicholas Johnson have set sail on an ambitious project, the complexities of which are unlikely to be assimilated in one viewing. Those complexities were made easier to confront by the uniform high quality of the acting and the overall cohesion of the ensemble.
As the programme notes indicate, the performance in front of an audience “is the final crucial stage of an experiment: the moment when we ask the wider public to savour a longer sip of what we have been distilling.” That sip is an acquired taste but it is not difficult to imagine the longer sip becoming addictive.
Translated & directed by Nicholas Johnson
Adapted for the Stage by David Shepherd and the David ensemble