Epic theatre is a theatrical movement arising in the early to mid 20th century from the theories and practice of a number of theatre practitioners who responded to the political climate of the time through the creation of a new political theatre. Epic theatre is not meant to refer to the scale or the scope of the work, but rather to the form that it takes. Epic theatre emphasises the audience’s perspective on and reaction to the piece through a variety of techniques that deliberately cause them to individually engage in a different way. The purpose of epic theatre is not to encourage an audience to suspend their disbelief, but rather to force them to think introspectively about the particular moments that are occurring on stage and why they are happening a certain way.
Brecht was interested in self-consciously retelling a story rather than realistically embodying the events of a narrative. His techniques encouraged the spectator to view the way in which playwright and actors presented the tale, exposing the mechanisms of theatre, and promoting an attitude of curiosity rather than the emotional and empathic response to the acting typical of the naturalistic and expressionistic forms dominant in German theatre at the time
Brecht’s first experiment in epic theatre was Man Equals Man written and produced by the ‘Brecht collective’ with the significant participation of Elisabeth Hauptmann, whose translations of Kipling were employed in the writing of the play. The production encouraged the spectator to view its unfolding narrative with the ‘expert’ attention of a boxing fan who, while concerned about the outcome, was critically engaged in judging the boxers methods of achieving it. Somewhat vaguely located in colonial British India, Man Equals Man is a parable of the malleability of human identity, exposing the way in which an authoritarian social order, in this case, the army, manipulates and moulds individuals to make them useful as soldiers, factory workers, pupils etc.