Bridewell Theatre – until 26 January2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Sedos’s production of Baal is brave and bombastic, with a creative flair that makes you forget this is an amateur company.
Unfortunately, Brecht’s first play, translated by Peter Tegl, isn’t the most light-hearted, making the show a bit of a slog at times. The plot follows Baal, a disillusioned poet who rejects the hypocrisy of bourgeois society and wanders around the countryside, drunk and lecherous, murders his friend and lover then dies alone and unrecognised.
The tilted stage serves as Baal’s attic apartment and the countryside, with imaginative use of a water tank. The musician-actors sit either side, chorusing scene descriptions and providing eerie sound effects when not on stage. Baal’s poems become songs from mostly the 80s and 90s, accompanied by the cast, which makes some tunes sound slightly surreal with the eclectic mix of live instruments being played. The songs work well, but a few could be shortened to move things along. The best tunes are played with great energy and abandon at the end of both acts, and instead of sitting and listening, the audience are directed to leave – a nice touch adding to the anarchic feel.
Ben Wooley is a strong, dead-eyed Baal, commanding the stage, but loses all that dynamism when he sings. This may well be the point though. The casting of men in the tricky roles of the women that Baal mistreats was well meant, but the simpering caricatures were even more uncomfortable and insulting than if females were in those roles. Again – this may be what we’re supposed to feel. The strong cast work well together and director Robert J. Stanex keeps the action tight and as fast paced as possible. Which isn’t easy with heavy material like this.