Sunday, 11 August 2013

Suspending Disbelief

When I was young I studied Brecht as part of an A Level in Theatre Studies. I loved him - he gelled with my teenage tendency to be drawn towards the somewhat surreal. Watching a Brecht play is a very different experience to most other plays or films. We tend now towards a "method" style of acting - an actor is considered "good" if he or she is believable. 

It's impossible to play Brecht in that way. His stage directions call for characters to wear masks and stilts, depending on their social status, and characters frequently step out of character to narrate sections of the story. Brecht never asked his audience to believe in his characters, he asked them to "suspend disbelief" at certain points in the narrative.

I assumed that children's play leaned towards method acting - that they get totally absorbed in the character they are playing. Over the last few days though, I've been watching Grace's imaginative play more closely. She frequently steps out of "role" to narrate parts of the story to whoever is around, or simply to herself, her play is punctuated with narrative song, repeating the action that has already taken place, and she beautifully displays the suspension of disbelief.

This was the conversation with Jude this morning:

"I've made you a present Jude - now you need to unwrap it.
Now you need to wrap a present for me. I'll help you because you can't wrap yet, but I'll be surprised when I open it.
Oh Jude, what a lovely present! I wasn't expecting that!"

I've noticed that when she plays with Matilda (the 7 year old from across the road) at least half of their play is describing to each other what is about to happen. The play doesn't "flow" in the naturalistic style we expect from films and TV, it is narrated and then performed. They don't think that they are actually the characters they play; they are suspending disbelief.

Either these children have been secretly reading Brecht, or he was mirroring how children actually play.


  1. I love Brecht, too, and you're so right - that's just how children play. :)

    1. It is inspiring me to dig out my copies of Brecht - I've not seen any actual performances advertised for a long time :( but I'm certainly going to start reading him again!