Practise your understanding of Brechtian techniques

Answer the question then check your response against the sample answer.

Question

Imagine that you are about to start work on a devised piece about working life in the 19th century. Research will have told you about the horrors of people’s lives:

  • young children as well as adults working long hours for low pay
  • children who were slow or drowsy at work were strapped (beaten)
  • children often injured by textile machines
  • phosphorus necrosis of the jaw commonly suffered by match girls in factories due to exposure to phosphorus
  • young boys being sent up chimneys to clean them

Write a list for a montage approach of five scenes, incorporating techniques to break the fourth wall. Make sure you note what you’ve incorporated and how you made it work for you.

I want the sequence to emphasise the ideas in the other scenes and by moving across time it becomes a statement about the human condition, rather than just Victorian working life.

Scene 1A narrator, a 13 year old Victorian era child, tells the audience that they’ve just finished their week’s work of 48 hours but their parents have to complete 67 and a half hours.
Scene 2A Victorian nanny and two children come past; one has a hoop and stick, the other a ball. They’re obviously healthy and rich and have been enjoying the fresh air. The narrator attempts to play with the children but is shooed away by the nanny.
Scene 3The narrator’s parents approach. They’re obviously physically damaged by the relentless hours of hard work and the mother suffers from phosphorus necrosis.
Scene 5The family pose together as if for a Victorian photograph before exiting the stage. A screen shows the projection of an image of the Victorian family which then morphs into a similar photograph of a modern day family in a third world country. A narrator heard in voiceover explains the modern day family’s poverty and working conditions. This shows the modern day hardships children and families still face in sweatshops in third world countries and makes a contemporary political comment. The use of the narrator is also a familiar Brechtian technique to break the fourth wall.
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