Man oh man, this is an evening of constant delight

Review by Paul Nelson

MAN is Man by Bertolt Brecht at was the first play to develop his so-called epic theatre, in which narrative; montage, self-contained scenes and rational argument create a shock of realisation in the spectator. His was no ordinary theatre with a proscenium through which you were to believe you were watching real people in various situations. Here were actors revealing themselves as actors playing a part. They did not have to identify with their roles but clearly demonstrate the actions of the characters they portrayed.

Painstakingly following this premise, director Mervyn Millar has presented one of the few instances in my life where theatre in the round has succeeded. It has always been a style for me to dread and eventually hate.

Here, I must say, I cannot imagine the play being performed in any other style. The actors are so intimate with the audience, I felt I was part of the play. The more I enjoyed it the more the cast played to me, and not only me, but to the rest of the audience. It is an exhilarating experience in the theatre.

The play ultimately deconstructs the premise that we are what we are, individual personalities, by putting forward the theory that we are what we are due to our names only. If we can lose that identity we can be what we wish to be.

It centres on an Indian packer, Galy Gay, who sets out to the market to buy a fish leaving his wife to boil the water and the rice to accompany it. In panto fashion, what befalls him is as stupid as Jack and the Beanstalk.

Due to a cockup involving a temple, one of four in a troop of British soldier gunners gets separated from the rest and as they are to be inspected, they must find a fourth soldier for the inspection parade.

Having pooled their ID they light upon the gullible Galy and rapidly train him to become their comrade presenting him with the fourth man's ID. Events lead to the crux of the play and Galy actually becomes the Irishman Jeraiah Jip. There are many silly, and sinister, events before he assumes the new identity because as stated, Brecht would have us believe we are what we seem to be.

In this Indian campaign no-one seems to be aware what they are fighting for but know how to do it.

Brecht's own views on pacifism also bubble to the surface when 'Jip' demolishes a stronghold with cannon only to find the fortress contained merchants and families.

The play certainly gives a lot to think about, and at the same time is hugely hilarious, not least during the execution of Galy by firing squad.

It would be unfair to reveal more of the plot, but the evening at The Finborough Theatre is one of constant delight.

The cast is exemplary. Millar has chosen each artiste well and they rise to him in complement. However, by sheer weight and strength of some of the roles, there must be some standout performances and any list must include the characters Galy Gay, Uriah Shelley, Widow Begbick and Sergeant Fairchild. These four do not usurp the talents displayed by the cast in the other roles.

It's another super evening from the by now formidable Steam Industry who once again have transformed the interior of this tiny space, this time, not to the American Dust Bowl and California as in the production of The Grapes of Wrath, but into a perfectly acceptable vision of the foothills of the Hindu Kush. Special mention must also be made of the debt owed to Rudyard Kipling by the production, and the original musical score.

Tickets are reasonably priced, so you know what to do.

Man Is Man by Bertolt Brecht in a translation by Steve Gooch (collaborators E Burn, S Dudow, E Hauptmann, C Neher, B Reich). Music specially composed by Annemarie Lewis Thomas. Directed by Mervyn Millar, Designed by Ana Mestre, Lighting by Ben Pickersgill, Sound by Adam Keeper. WITH Claire Lubert (Widow Begwick/Mrs Gay), Jamie Zubairi (Galy Gay), Jonathan Tanner (Jessie Mahoney), Adam Buckles (Jeraiah Jip), Sandra Patton (Polly Baker), Simon Balfour (Uriah Shelley), Matthew Hendrickson (Sergeant Fairchild), Leonard Estranero (Wang The Bonze), Simon Holland Roberts (Soldier), Simon Purse (Soldier). Presented by The Steam Industry at The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10. 020 7373 3842.