The Royal Lyceum Theatre and Citizens Theatre take on a Brecht comedy classic with Mrs Puntila and Her Man Matti, adapted from Brecht’s original by Scottish crime writer Denise Mina. Directed by DOT Theatre Istanbul’s Murat Daltaban, the play attends to drunkenness and class conflict.
Mrs Puntila (Elaine C. Smith) is a rich lady of the Scottish landed gentry, while Matti (Steven McNicoll) is her chauffeur. The two of them discuss politics, each other’s private lives and get into various situations related to Puntila’s intoxicated antics. Drunk, Puntila is jovial, unpredictable and accommodating, but sober, she is ruthless and mean.
The play opens strongly with a musical number that succeeds in setting the stylistic tone. The rest of Oğuz Kaplangı’s score also provides welcome musical moments. The staging is inventive and the props are of a high quality. The comedy is quite frequent in the beginning, but trundles off into the wilderness towards the end of each act. The musical numbers provide welcome lifts, but feel like add-ons designed to do precisely this, rather than being fully-integrated elements in the narrative.
The play aims to depict the tensions of powerful rich people like Puntila interacting with and exploiting working-class people. The most successful depiction of this tension is the reminder to the ensemble to never accept their rights as charity. The point is well-placed, although the general delivery of the class commentary feels incomplete. The moments where the audience is supposed to feel compassion with the plight of working-class people fail to land with impact because they seem like convenient and simplified glosses of working-class people’s experiences rather than well-researched and integrated parts of the plot. This may be due to the light-hearted nature of Brecht’s original play. However, the comedy and political commentary fail to fully integrate, leaving both slightly lacking.
McNicoll plays Matti with flare, while Smith completely inhabits Puntila, expertly portraying a long-term drinker without overplaying her drunken antics. This is helpful, because the comedy relies rather heavily on references to drinking in place of a more diverse comedic landscape. While this is entertaining, more comedic and ironic variation would be welcome. What this play actually achieves thematically and comedically could be achieved in a shorter time.
Overall, this play is a little overlong and thematically over-extended, but has some funny moments and features dedicated performances from its cast.
Mrs Puntila and Her Man Matti runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre from 28 February to 21 March 2020.
Featured image credit: Mihaela Bodlovic