Fascism and Theatre: Comparative Studies on the Aesthetics and Politics of Performance in Europe, 1925-1945, Edited and with an Introduction by Gunter Berghaus

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Fascism and Theatre: Comparative Studies on the Aesthetics and Politics of Performance in Europe, 1925-1945, edited, and with an introduction by Günter Berghaus

Much important academic research appears not in the form of journal articles but as "chapters" in loosely organized collective volumes that are often preceded by conferences or colloquia. The great advantage to such publication is its wider availability and thus accessibility; the great disadvantage is that these "books" often contain a somewhat mismatched assortment of short essays. For the most part, readers must peruse such tomes knowing that the contents will probably prove uneven.

Fascism and Theatre: Comparative Studies on the Aesthetics and Politics of Performance in Europe, 1925-1945 follows an earlier book edited by Günter Berghaus; like that earlier volume, Theatre and Film in Exile: German Artists in Exile in Great Britain, 1933-45, it evolved from a conference sponsored by the Universities of Bristol, Granada, and Berlin. Yet in spite of the careful planning that went into the symposium and its subsequent publication, this collection of essays seems at times to lack real unity; rather than offering what Berghaus calls "a wide ranging analysis of the rôles and functions played by theatre and other performative means of expression in fascist States," Fascism and Theatre presents an interesting and odd assortment of glimpses into the theatrical culture of Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, with side trips into Franco's Spain and Pétain's France.

At its best, many of the book's essays respond in some way to each other. For example, Roger Griffen's opening piece, on the politics and aesthetics of fascist performance, lays a strong foundation for much of what follows, and as a few of the succeeding writers take up their subjects, they do so by referring back to Griffen's definitions and explanations. Such acknowledgment gives some unity to parts of the larger collection. Yet there are many more instances in which individual contributors seem to be writing without any genuine knowledge of what others in the project have done. Erik Levi's closing essay, on opera in Nazi Germany (with a brief summation of opera in fascist Italy), would clearly have benefited from some connection with Barbara Panse's survey of censorship of drama within the Reich, and at least two of the pieces on Italian theatre -- Pietro Cavallo's and Mario Verdone's -- even appear to contradict each other at times. …