The Big Brecht Fest II: How Much Is Your Iron? and Senora Carrar’s Rifles review at Young Vic

The second of the Young Vic’s Brechtian double bills is by far the weaker.

Partly this is because the plays are both deliberately simplistic agitprop pieces that all the efforts in the world can’t make deeper than the historical footnotes that they are.

How Much Is Your Iron? is a transparent allegory in which a Swedish tradesman rationalises his continued trading with an unnamed ruffian even though the customer has killed his friends, Herr Austrian and Frau Czech, and is threatening Herr Britt and Frau Gaul.

It undoubtedly had far more resonance 70 years ago, and is only saved from irrelevance by a hint of what would today be called post-modern irony, in the playwright’s winking acknowledgement of his own overtness.

Still, it is ultimately stronger than Senora Carrar’s Rifles, set in the Spanish Civil War, and depicting a peasant woman attempting unsuccessfully to keep her family out of danger. There are strong echoes of Synge and O’Casey, and anticipation of Mother Courage, in the recognition that sons die and mothers grieve. But Brecht’s political purpose keeps him from fleshing out the characters or evoking universals, while he makes and remakes his point repeatedly so that, even at 45 minutes, the play feels overlong.

How Much Is Your Iron? is anchored by performances and direction that tread the delicate line between reality and cartoon, but Senora Carrar’s Rifles is further hampered by a jumble of accents and performance styles.

Production Information

Young Vic, April 23-May 5

Bertolt Brecht
Orla O’Loughlin, Paul Hunter
Young Vic
Cast includes Joseph Alford, Elliot Levey (Iron); Sandy McDade, Richard Katz, Hugh Skinner (Rifles)
Running time
1hr 30mins
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