Weird experiments in stone and glass clutter the South Bank opposite the Tower of London. The near-spherical City Hall looks like a speeding squash ball photographed at the moment of impact with a racquet. Around it stretches an acre of sloping flagstones, ideal for freestyle biking and skateboarding. (Sure enough, both activities are vigorously suppressed by patrols of scowling guards.) Nearby, the Scoop is a roofless amphitheatre fashioned from a crater of layered granite. It’s an eerie and compelling sight, as if a divine whirlwind had ripped deep spirals out of a barren moonscape to produce a huge grooved funnel. As I took my place on a freezing seat, I sensed that the artificiality of the space seems to work against the warmth and intimacy it’s supposed to generate.
The theatre hosts free performances of Brecht’s The Mother until 4 September. This 1932 drama sketches out life in Russia during the 15 years leading up to the revolution. The central character, Pelegea, is a turnip-boiling peasant who joins the communists when her son gets into trouble for organising a strike. True to form, Brecht questions everyone’s assumptions but his own. He portrays the revolutionaries as brave and brilliant pioneers intent on saving the world from a gang of dimwitted capitalist throwbacks. Every gesture is highly simplistic. A smug conservative sneers that ignorance is better than education. A strike-breaking cook waves his machete around angrily. The Church is represented by sulky black-clad mystics who, for reasons not explained, speak in Welsh accents.
This is a listless, middle-of-the-road production with one very peculiar detail: the action is enlivened by bursts of song played by a Ukrainian serf with a James Blunt haircut and an electric guitar. Believe it or not the show is proving popular.