The Theatreguide.London Review
The Jungle Of Cities
Arcola Theatre Autumn 2013
This 1923 drama of cold-blooded dealings in a cold metropolis would be another of Bertold Brecht's simple moral fables were it not for the fact that it is far from simple, the normally over-explicit Brecht here burying his ideas under a difficult-to-follow plot and layers of incomprehensible philosophising and poetic imagery.
Director Peter Sturm and his hard-working cast strive admirably to make it clear, but they are ultimately defeated by the opaque text, leaving this a curiosity only for those looking to fill in a gap in their Brecht experience.
This much is fairly certain: for reasons of his own a rich man attempts an extreme experiment, giving all he has to a poor man.
The poor man is instantly corrupted, engaging in crooked business dealings and watching his family fall apart and his girlfriend and sister both turn to whoring, while the formerly rich man hangs around, getting some perverse pleasure from the other's degradation and his own. The two spend the play trying to destroy each other and talking about their motives and feelings at great and opaque length.
Even that rough summary is only possible in hindsight, as what we see is a string of independent scenes whose connection to what came before or after has to be guessed at as we watch, and a revolving door of secondary characters, many of whom are never adequately identified or their purposes made clear.
Just what the rich man was hoping to prove by the experiment, whether he got what he expected, what satisfaction he gets from abasing himself in order to watch, and what the whole experience does to the formerly poor man's soul – none of these are ever clear enough to make whatever point the playwright had in mind, or indeed to make the story coherent.
(I won't even get into some of the secondary mystifications, like why the rich man is a Malaysian working in Chicago – Brecht habitually created imaginary landscapes out of places he had never seen.)
Faced with characters who seem to change their personalities from scene to scene and, although determined to explain themselves at length, do so in a private poetic language that just muddies things further, Jeffery Kissoon as the Malay and Joseph Arkley as his experimental subject are to be admired for holding our attention (if not our understanding) for as long as they do.
The rest of the cast, most doubling or tripling roles, must do what their director tells them and hope for the best, though Rebecca Brewer as the sister is able to inject a hint of humanity into her cardboard character.
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Review - In The Jungle Of Cities - Arcola Theatre 2013