Bertolt Brecht’s 1940 play, performed by the students at RADA in a version by Lee Hall, is about an aristocratic landowner who has two different sides to his personality depending on whether he is drunk or sober. When sober, he is a dictatorial tyrant who treats both his daughter and his servants badly. When drunk, however, he is generous, frivolous, good to his employees and insistent that his daughter should marry the man she loves. How the two sides of Mr Puntila’s nature reconcile – or do not – is the subject of Mr Puntila and His Man Matti.
The theatre is decked out in avant-garde style, designed by Thomas Malyon, with wooden labels with key words dotted around the auditorium (characters also wear cloth name tags throughout the show). Directed by Simona Gonella, it is a fast-paced play that runs for two hours without an interval, yet doesn’t flag or fade. Performances are strong throughout, particularly from the two leads, with Puntila a genial lush or a tyrannical autocrat depending on his degree of sobriety, and Matti, his driver, a languid, observant Cockney.
The two sides of Puntila are obviously supposed to represent capitalism versus communism, but the show is so much fun that no heavy-handed political statements are apparent. Indeed, the giggles coming from the two young boys sitting behind me, no older than twelve, speak for themselves. Farcical situations abound, particularly involving Puntila’s daughter Eva, who is anxious to detangle herself from her engagement to the local attaché. This production at RADA is superb and a credit to everyone involved.