The story revolves around wealthy capitalist Mrs Puntila, who while drunk is generous and kind, and while sober is ruthless and exploitative, and her chauffeur Matti (Steven McNicoll), a poor but self-assured man charged with dealing with Puntila’s antics. Basically, Puntila is the embodiment of the 1%, and Matti (along with various minor cast members) the spokesperson for the working class.
The play becomes a whirlwind of jokes, unlikely situations and escapades, all of which contribute to a powerful Marxist reading of our current society, which manages to never feel overly virtuous.
Elaine C. Smith and Steven McNicoll are fantastic as the two eponymous leads. It really is a joy anytime they’re on stage. Smith delivers a brilliantly comedic drunken Puntila and an equally stern and daunting sober protagonist, switching effortlessly between the two, and McNicoll is perfect as the stubborn, proud and cynical Matti. Both are gripping in roles which essential for selling the play.
The production often breaks the fourth wall - “We’re allowed to do it, because it’s Brecht. It’s dead German” says Puntila - in true Brechtian/epic theatre style, and this too works well. It’s used for great comedic effect (never more so than just before the interval), and to more sobering effect to highlight the struggles that working class families face in the modern day.
The production is a damning critique of the inequality between the rich and poor in society, and in particular, of how the working class are forced to shape their lives to the mood swings of the rich.
Overall, though, the play is a big old raging socialist success - they even sing communist anthem Bella Ciao (look, no matter what your political view, it’s a huge tune). It’s a brave production and one which succeeds in making Brecht relevant and engaging.
The production is a damning critique of the inequality between the rich and poor in society, and in particular, of how the working class are forced to shape their lives to the mood swings of the rich. The fact that Puntila seems slightly clueless no matter what state she's in just plays into this critique. Even at her friendliest (which is while drunk), she appears naive at best - at one point hiring four PA's she blatantly won't need, who are ultimately destined to get the chop later on in the play.
The climactic image of Puntila atop a staircase look out over “her land” with the silhouetted workers grafting on the stage below is intensely powerful, and provides a fantastic ending to a performance which will bring joy, focused-anger and vigour to socialists or anyone who would count themselves on the left, and which will challenge the views of those who are not. And if we’re honest about the profile of the bulk of current theatre go-ers in Edinburgh (this could be unfair, but I don't imagine they were knocking doors for Corbyn), we’re inclined to say that can only be a good thing.