Arriving in London in 1964, the American critic, director and playwright Charles Marowitz lamented the "political naiveté" of the British theatre scene with its "social evils syruped over with fraternal mysticism."
Marowitz's remedy was as obstreperous as his diagnosis, galvanising the RSC with an experiment in the Theatre of Cruelty. Four years later, he created the Open Space theatre, one of the founding pillars of the London fringe.
Five decades later, he returns to the off-West-end circuit with Silent Partners, an adaption of Eric Bentley's 1985 The Brecht Memoir. The production begins with the meeting between the twenty-five-year-old British-born scholar and the forty-three-year-old German playwright-in-exile in Santa Monica, California, and traces their fraught relationship over more than a decade.
The tempestuous critic-artist relationship, with its homoerotic overtones; the writer who exploits his minions for his own artistic ends; a champion revolutionary ideologue who forsakes his politics – are all familiar themes, and that is, unfortunately, how the play feels – wearisomely predictable.
The delivery is often ham-fisted and relentlessly over-acted, with some off-key accents. It does not make for gripping drama, and at two hours long, could well have been cut in half.
That said, there are brief moments of comic relief in the form of mordantly wry one-liners from Bentley (Jonathon Gibson), whose performance as a painfully awkward, gay academic, an inside-outsider of the bohemian world in which he finds himself, is sustained throughout.
Brecht's women, his elf-like muse Berlau (Zoë Simon), who is later institutionalised, and the deadly silent Mother Courage Helene (Nada Sharp) deliver fine portrayals. But repeatedly I was left lamenting the overstatement of themes, which would have been far more successful for having been teased out.
Brecht, for instance, we are told, liked to "have his cake and eat it," "discretion is the better part of valour;" Bentley comes to the conclusion that their relationship is like that between Faust and the devil, except for Bentley those worldly pleasures – namely, sleeping with Brecht – never do materialise. The plans runs, like its actors' lines, on clichés, with the effect that the climatic betrayal falls flat.