Managing Multiple Figures on Stage

One of the principles of a Brechtian theatre is that it tries to set out complex actions as series of causes and effects. A visual chain of events unfolds before the audience’s eyes, and the spectator is invited to make sense of the social mechanisms that inform the action.

Brecht wanted one thing to follow another so that the audience could trace the development of actions and ideas on stage. In keeping with this approach, I tried to impose the practice of ‘not walking and talking’. This means that a figure can move, make a gesture or deliver line, but may not do any of these together. (Actors unfamiliar with this practice find it remarkably difficult to negotiate at the start of rehearsals, but, as time goes on, adapt to it, especially when they have the opportunity to stand outside a scene and watch it unfold. As one of the actors in this production put it: ‘it feels weird, but looks great’.) This rule can be seen in the precision of delivery and movement in this clip:

‘Not walking and talking’ works well with a small number of figures on stage at any time, but in a play like The Crucible that has a court scene in which there are sixteen actors on stage for Elizabeth’s interrogation, for example, Brecht’s rule has to show some flexibility.

The key is to remember where the focus of the action lies and to try to enforce the rule there. The surrounding actors can then adjust to changes in the action with clear movements of their heads and bodies where necessary, but no-one should move unless they have to.

As such, the production sought to navigate its way through complex actions with multiple figures on stage in such a way that the tableau-like quality of the stage images was retained, while significant action and reaction was represented clearly to the audience. The visual documentation gives a sense of this aesthetic.