BBC Radio 3, 12 May 2013
Written when Brecht was only twenty-three
years old, Jungle of Cities (Im Dickicht der Stadte) is set in Chicago in the years immediately prior to
and during World War One. The framework is an ingenious one: George Garga (Paul Ritter) and Shlink (Nicholas Woodeson)
are locked in a ten-round boxing match. Garga is a book clerk and Shlink is a lumber merchant.
The ensuing action witnesses the two of them vying with one another for power, both mental
as well as physical. The plot is a familiar one; what actually sustains the attention is the language (in Anselm
Hollo's translation) - at once vivid yet poetic, full of haunting rhythms and harsh-sounding consonants. Brecht builds
up a portrait of an industrial city in which individuals don't matter; power and influence take precedence over everything. Some
of the attitudes - especially concerning race and gender - are outdated now, but the ideology remains as significant
today as it was over eighty years ago.
At the play's
premiere in Munich in May 1923, the performance was interrupted by Hitler's supporters shouting, whistling and throwing
stink-bombs at the actors. Such scandals became part and parcel of Brecht's better-known plays. Jonquil Panting's
revival came across as something of a period-piece, an evocation of a long-forgotten world, but the politics shone through