Theatre about nazi camps and war

This video is called Auschwitz on stage – Peter Weiss: The Investigation in East and West Germany.

By Gordon Parsons in Scotland, about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe arts show:

The Fringe: From brilliant to doomed

Wednesday 24 August 2011

The 3Bugs Fringe Theatre’s adventurous production of The Investigation at the Zoo Southside studio, Peter Weiss‘s gruelling dramatic reconstruction of the post-war Frankfurt war crimes trials, played to a packed late-night audience.

The words of this “Oratorio in 11 Cantos” are those of the Auschwitz survivors detailing the obscene atrocities suffered in the camp. The commitment of the nine young actors, conveying the horror of the judge, the pathetic defence of the defendants and above all the agony of the victims dredging memories which they are desperate to forget, could not be faulted.

Yet though their need to “theatricalise” the piece through dance and symbolic physical depiction of the brutalities described is understandable, it detracted somewhat from the cold surgical power of the words which conjure their own action in the imaginations of the audience.

I had similar reservations with Terezin: Children of the Holocaust at The Spaces on the Mile.

Despite fine performances from the three central young actors, Anna Smulowitz’s play based on documents discovered from the notorious “holiday” concentration camp reveals the lives of six children in cell block 22 and brings home the impotence of naturalistic realism in attempting to capture the true nature of that human hell.

Italy’s Theandric Teatro Nonviolento Company’s intense production of Ernst Toller‘s Masses Man at C Aquila rejects naturalism. This work by the early 20th-century German revolutionary writer, little known in Britain, deserves much larger audiences.

Theatricality came to the fore in a gripping expressionist treatment of Toller’s ideological battle between the urge for anarchistic violence to destroy the oppressive state and the need for individuals to avoid being subsumed by the struggle.

Through expressive dance and language – “Have you seen the stock exchange getting fed on human corpses?” – the grotesque relationship between capitalist war and economics is anything but dated.

On a lighter note French-Canadian Wishbone Theatre’s Bashir Lazhar at the Assembly masked a personal tragedy reflecting the lot of innumerable world refugees.

Bashir Lazhar, an Algerian cafe owner, escapes persecution to Canada where, jobless, he applies to be a substitute teacher at a school where his predecessor has publicly hanged herself.

The unconventional approach of Michael Peng’s Monsieur Hulot-like Bashir to his teaching, a deep affectionate respect for his students and the potential power of words in their lives is evocatively mixed with surrealistic daydreaming of his family who, it is planned, will join him in this new life.

That reverie is shattered by the news of their deaths in a bombing and his dismissal by the school authorities at odds with his uncomfortably creative methods.

Fragments of Ash at Venue 13 from Wales’s Notional Theatre registers a visceral anti-war message. A domestic living room, a middle-aged Welsh widow and a bound and hooded hostage raise startling questions from the start of Terry Victor’s play.

Slowly, through retelling her life story to her victim we find a woman who has lost both her husband and adult son to two of the ongoing wars Britain has been fighting over the past century.

This moving narrative is interlaced with a choreographed physical merging of her experience with that of an Afghan mother whose own baby son has been killed.

When we discover that the terrified hostage is a high-ranking member of the British government, so ready to sacrifice its young and placate their families with media window-dressing heroism, the question what makes ordinary women become suicide bombers is posed and answered by this moving play.

Caligula at C Venues again provided a rare chance to see Albert Camus’s existentialist exploration of the self-delusory nature of absolute power. David Greig’s translation is enhanced by the central performance of Luke Sumner’s Emperor.

He breaks just about every boundary of morality as he tests the ultimate meaning of existence only to find that hell is not other people but loneliness.

Finally, a quirky oddity. I, the Dictator at the New Town Theatre has Polish actor Krystian Wieczynski as Charlie Chaplin at the moment in his career when he was making his first talkie The Great Dictator.

The US was not interested in the comic savaging of that other comic, Hitler, but the Third Reich was.

Offered to name his own price for the film rights by the Germans on the principle of “Why gag the mouth when you can buy it” in order to destroy its message, Chaplin is torn.

But his anger fuels his rejection of the man who “has stolen my moustache.

“Let him wear my baggy trousers.”

Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade: here. And here.

6 thoughts on “Theatre about nazi camps and war

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