The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
"I find it so frustrating," Sue Pomeroy says vehemently, "because without some understanding, people don't realise what a depth of riches and sheer pleasure can be found in Brecht's work. He is just too good to be left mouldering in the archives."
Pomeroy is the producer of I, Bertolt Brecht, the docudrama touring until the end of this month.
Since her student days she's had an interest in the playwright but the real life-changer was studying Brecht's theatrical legacy first-hand at his Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, home of the Berliner Ensemble in the German Democratic Republic.
"That was really the catalyst for me to develop this play," she says. "He needs to be introduced to a new generation as well as be a salutary reminder to an older generation of how good he really is."
While there may be a new awakening to his plays, Pomeroy confesses there have been problems, not least misconceptions, about the writer and his work.
"I think part of it is that we say: 'Oh, he's a German, so it's going to be difficult. I think we sometimes have a xenophobic viewpoint here. We tend to focus on ourselves, rather than take an international perspective.
"In continental Europe there is certainly more interest in and understanding of Brecht. There is actually more interest in 20th-century drama itself. But with Brecht here in Britain there are also considerable misconceptions about his work, even within the theatre profession itself."
The idea of producing the play first came when she met Barbara Brecht, the playwright's daughter. Previously, despite an interest in Brecht since her student days, she'd had no direct contact with the playwright in her work as a theatre director.
That changed when she met Barbara and her husband, the great Brechtian actor Ekkehard Schall, while she was working in Leicester.
"When I saw his one-man show, I was knocked out by how extraordinary his performance was.
"It was something so completely different to what we were used to in British theatre. I wanted to know how he was doing it and that question led me to East Berlin at the invitation of Barbara Brecht."
There she was able to study first hand how Brecht's theatre worked by sitting in on rehearsals, watching performances and studying the "model books" that he had kept for each of his productions.
"They were a treasure trove - rather like recipe books - a means for others to replicate the same outcome. I just soaked up the whole experience and gradually began piecing the bits together so that I could comprehend how they created this type of theatrical experience."
She was struck by the radically different approach to creating a character.
When talking with Schall about how he prepared for the role of Galileo, she explained how British actors would attempt to form a complete picture of the person and get under his or her skin.
"But Schall didn't seem to understand what I was on about. He told me he simply studied what the playwright had written about the character Galileo in the play, scene by scene, and then attempted to interpret the playwright's intentions on stage so that the audience could draw its own conclusions."
The experience in East Berlin was life changing in terms of acting and directing and "that was the real catalyst for this production of I, Bertolt Brecht."
Pomeroy feels Brecht's theatre is still relevant to modern audiences, even though his plays are steeped in the reality of early 20th-century German history and the rise of fascism.
"That whole period has an enormous amount to teach us. As Brecht so memorably said about fascism, even after its defeat, 'The belly from which it crawled is fecun still.' We have the dangerous phenomenon of neonazism so his plays are as relevant as ever.
"Brecht was also an extraordinary thinker. He shone a pure, clear light on everything he looked at - our society and human behaviour and human relationships.
"Society and human beings haven't changed that much in the intervening years so his observations are still applicable.
"He makes you look at things anew, makes you question and seek answers
"He refused to let the audience sink back in their plush seats in the darkness and wallow in their emotions.
"He says to us: 'Look, the world doesn't have to be like that. We can change things, so let's explore the way forward.' Brecht is asking us to become involved, to take action."
Apathy is one of the biggest contemporary dangers, Pomeroy says, and "Brecht won't allow us to be apathetic." She wants to "prod" people to make decisions, to take action.
"Brecht didn't ever tell people what to do or what he thought the answers were. He left that up to the audience. He simply said: 'This is wrong. Look at it and think about it, become part of the solution.' He wakes us up."
The bottom line, she insists, is that Brecht's plays are fabulous works - funny, witty, clever, very down-to-earth and, above all, compassionate.
"He has great songs too. Many don't realise that they already know something of Brecht through the interpretations of singers like David Bowie, Sting and The Doors.
"Brecht fought injustice and cruelty and condemned intolerance.
"We still have all those things with us and in all that I stand side-by-side with him. He's life enhancing, amazing."
Pomeroy's certainly got a point and if you get a chance to see I Bertolt Brecht you will see exactly what she means.
I, Berolt Brecht tours Chelmsford, Swansea, Wolverhampton, Crawley and Brighton from March 20-31.