Mrs Puntila and Her Man Matti at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Bertolt Brecht is not everyone’s stein of bier! The German Marxist’s approach to theatre may need a little research before you are thrown into his modernist world.

His message in Denise Mina’s adaptation of his epic comedy Mr Puntila and His Man Matti certainly comes over loud and clear: it is about capitalism and the power the rich have over the poor – nothing’s changed there since the play’s conception in 1940. However, his propensity to use harsh and bright stage lighting and, he has said, ‘stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality’, takes some getting used to. Instead of Mrs P’s sumptuous trappings the set consists of scaffolding laid bare (apart from several mounted stags’ heads), topped by razor wire. Mina’s version also sticks faithfully to his style of introducing exaggerated characters whose chalky faces and kohl eyes add a touch of Commedia dell’Arte, and sultry songs which interrupt the action.

Mrs P wants to marry off her daughter Eva to a ’half man, half attache’, but Eva loves her mother’s driver Matti and as the plot unwinds we see how poor and rich don’t mix, quite apart from the fact that she is young and he is old enough to be her father.

Taking centre stage in the title roles are Scottish favourites Elaine C Smith as Mrs P and Steven McNicoll as Matti.

Mrs P, as was Mr P, is a split personality: when she’s drunk she’s generous and friendly to all; when she’s sober she’s mean and nasty, and although Smith has great stage presence, I couldn’t always distinguish which side of Mrs P she was playing, and the rhythm with which she speaks at times seemed laboured.

McNicoll’s Matti is much more rounded and fun to watch, while I can only put Joanne McGuinness’s strange antics as Eva down to Brecht’s style and Murat Daltaban’s direction. He is one of Europe’s top directors so I bow to his expertise. As I said, Brecht takes a bit of getting used to.

I love Oguz Kaplangi’s eerie soundscapes, and diverse compositions which include rapping, and was fascinated by his performance, seated as he is on the upper floor of the scaffolding, the only musician and percussionist who also provides the sound effects. And Tom Piper’s design, although Brechtian, has some very interesting elements such as the ‘human’ dogs with Perspex heads. I just wonder how many pubs the crew had to visit to collect so many bottles!

Despite, or in spite of Brecht, Mina’s interpretation includes some very funny, modern, and Scottish references, ending appropriately with ‘Ye’ll tak the high road and I’ll tak the low road…’
Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

Mrs Puntila and Her Man Matti is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh until March 21
Box Office: 0131 248 4848
lyceum.org.uk