Satirist Alistair Beaton a furiously funny man

PUBLISHED: 14:42 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:11 20 February 2013

Alistair Beaton

Alistair Beaton

He's annoyed Margaret Thatcher, put Tony Blair on trial and been sacked as Gordon Brown's joke writer. Satirist Alistair Beaton is coming to Yorkshire, as Chris Titley discovers

It's one of those things theatregoers rarely say after watching a play by Bertolt Brecht: 'I haven't laughed so much in ages!' The German dramatist is known as a master of his art, but a joke-cracking funster? No.

Yet Alistair Beaton insists there are moments of high comedy in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, the playwright's epic tale of devotion and justice. And if anyone can draw out Brecht's comic side, it's the man who has written some of the funniest material of the last 30 years, from TV classics like Not The Nine O'Clock News and Spitting Image to A Very Social Secretary.

'Brecht has been treated with an excessive degree of reverence, so he's become a bit of a byword for something earnest and perhaps a little dull. I don't think he needs to be that,' Alistair said. 'There's a lot more humour in Brecht than has been translated and noted.'

A fluent German speaker and an award-winning playwright, Alistair has strived to make his translation of the play 'both serious and yet hugely entertaining'. That fits with the ethos of the theatre company, Shared Experience, and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds where the new production is premiered from September 25th.

'It has a reputation for freshness and it's also a wonderful space. I'm thrilled it's opening there.'

Although written more than 60 years ago and set in Soviet Russia, The Caucasian Chalk Circle has plenty to connect it to a modern audience. The play deals in 'the gigantic themes of war and peace and fairness and justice and wealth and poverty - all the eternal themes really - and they've come into focus again with everything from the war in Iraq to the banking crisis'.

This is meat and drink to Alistair, who has made his name satirising the excesses of power. He's long felt that 'respectable societies are often a cover up for doing awful things, where cultured men in nice suits tell us it's perfectly OK to go to war or whatever other dreadful thing they're planning.

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