Tammy Moore talks Brecht, the Cauliflower Trust and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui with Bruiser's artistic director and 'Woman of the Year in the Arts'
Lisa May, artistic director of Bruiser Theatre Company, is an elegant woman with a sleek blonde bob and an infectious, disarming giggle. She deploys the latter when asked about being named as ‘Woman of the Year in the Arts’ by the Belfast Telegraph in 2009.
‘I didn’t think for one moment that I’d win. The competition was amazing,’ she says. ‘They went through their credits and I went "Oh, not a mission. More wine!"'
May is more comfortable praising others than accepting it herself, but phrase her award as recognition for Bruiser and she glows with quiet delight. ‘Hopefully it has raised awareness for Bruiser,’ she says earnestly.
She was one of the founders of Bruiser back in 1997. Fresh out of drama school then-actor May intended the company to serve as a showcase of her acting abilities. Instead, as Bruiser’s distinctive visual style – minimal staging and maximum physicality – developed it occurred to May that she should step out and ‘take the reins a bit more’.
Since then May has directed all but one of Bruiser’s productions. She is also closely involved with their educational and outreach programme, part of Bruiser’s mission statement since the beginning, when May decided there was a market for an accessible touring theatre company with an educational slant.
And education is what Bruiser’s current season is all about. May calls it their 'didactic season' of plays that are meant to tell you something as well as entertain you, including the like of the The Government Inspector and Oh What a Lovely War.
Next up is The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, one of Bertolt Brecht's best known and most challenging plays. An alarming and savage allegory of Hitler’s rise to power, the Führer is portrayed as charismatic Chicago gangster Arturo Ui, endeavouring to seize the city’s fruit and vegetable racket from top-dog Al Capone. In true Bruiser style six actors will play over 50 characters to bring the story to life.
Chaplin fan that she is, May has stuck with the period gangster setting Brecht originally envisioned for the play.
‘I think the audience can find the parallels for themselves,' she says. And if they can't, they will have a cheat sheet in the programme to help them. For everything in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is either a parallel or commentary on Hitler’s Germany, challenging the audience to find the historical sense in what they see on stage.
‘You really need to know your onions,’ May admits ruefully. When she started working on the play she thought she knew about Hitler and the second world war. Now, surrounded by stacks of history and reference books, she’s made sure she does. It still amazes her to look at the play and realise just how right Brecht was, both Ui and Hitler's rise was resistible. And yet, as Brecht points out at the end, 98% of people voted for Hitler.
For those who get tired of plotting the structure of the Third Reich over Ui’s mob, there’s plenty of humour to be had. Despite Brecht’s reputation The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui isn’t a grimly educational play. Certainly not with May’s deft hand directing events. She’s particularly fond of the Cauliflower Guild, a hapless coalition whose Laurel and Hardy style pickles eventually lead to Ui’s victory.
‘They just make me smile.'
Many critics state that Brecht was only interested in educating his audiences, not entertaining them. May disagrees with that. She thinks that Brecht wanted to do both. Just like her.
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui can be seen at the Belfast Waterfront from February 16-18, 2010, before going on tour across Northern Ireland.