Magazine article The Spectator

Spreading Brecht's Message

Magazine article The Spectator

Spreading Brecht's Message

Article excerpt

Lloyd Evans talks to Henry Goodman about his role in the playwright's political allegory The face is unlined. The tan is as deep as Brazilian hardwood. The thatch of grey hair looks like a gift from God rather than the achievement of surgical intervention. At 63, the actor Henry Goodman keeps himself in excellent trim. He exudes energy and concentration, and in the hour we spend together, he relates every aspect of our talk straight back to the show he's promoting, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. Brecht's political allegory uses imaginary figures from Chicago's underworld to satirise Hitler's assumption of power in Germany during the 1930s.

The script was written in just three weeks, in 1941, while Brecht was in exile in Helsinki awaiting his visa for America.

'Brecht wrote this to warn the Americans: fascism could happen in your country. You love gangsters.

You love murderers. You love film stars. You love celebrity. How can I convince you that in your culture such a terrible thing could happen? By taking your gangsters, your Capones, and showing you how these people can get away with terrible things because there's corruption all around. That's why he chooses Chicago. It's corrupt.'

Goodman's upbringing in Whitechapel, east London, gave him an automatic understanding of the lead character. 'To grow out of my surroundings, without in any way looking down on them, I had to move out of them and improve myself. That's what happens in Ui.

This actor comes in, just like Hitler, and says, "I want to learn to talk better. I want to learn to, er, you know, ercu-lution lessons." He gets things wrong and he's an idiot. That's what happened to Hitler, and to Ui. Insignificant little shits, little nerds who everyone laughed at until something happened that made them say, "I'll stop your laughing." Not that I was laughed at, it was a wonderful community. But what I understand is that hunger. I remember a teacher saying to me, "You were born on the wrong side of the tracks. But you've every right to go to the National Gallery. And, by the way, here's Shakespeare." ' He graduated from RADA in the early Seventies, joined a commune in Kentish Town and plunged into radical theatre. 'I was jumping up on tables in Leicester Square to raise money to stop the demolition of Eros in Piccadilly.'

With a grant from the Ford Foundation, he toured South Africa for ten years running shows in churches and townships. 'We used some of the techniques I'd learned in London, interaction and game theory. It sounds as if it might be a bit childish but it wasn't.

It was extremely clever group dynamics.

People would listen and learn. You created structure. People enjoyed themselves and in enjoying themselves they could talk freely about things they might not otherwise talk about.' He's keen not to be seen as 'some old leftie'. 'I'm not a radical Marxist at all but, yes, I'm left of centre.' He's aware that corruption and 'self-aggrandisement' can also affect those whose political sympathies he shares.

'We're discovering that the BBC has sacked lots of artistic people and paid out enough to one individual, for three years of administrative duties, that would have kept all those people in work. And they've lost their jobs, their pensions, for ever. It's a fact that there's this scepticism about who we can trust. …

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