by Dea Loher translated by Daid Tushingham.
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 2) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 26 January 2013.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 January.
Depth of experience lies in material more than presentation.
German Jew Olga Benario fled to Russia in 1928. In 1934 Stalin sent her with Communist Carlos Luis Prestes to his home country, Brazil, to foment an insurrection. They did; it failed. He made her pregnant and the fascist Brazilian authorities imprisoned her, later sending her ‘home’ to the Nazis. She was killed in 1942, aged 34, after imprisonment in Ravensbrück concentration camp.
Olga’s life could suggest many stories, including the later alliance between her Communist lover and Brazil’s right-wing leader. Dea Loher’s 1992 drama focuses on imprisonment; Olga recalls her Brazilian prison from the Ravensbrück cell where she creates room for reflection, remembering her time with Prestes. If it suggests the theme of Richard Lovelace’s Cavalier poem To Althea, from Prison (“Stone walls do not a prison make/Nor iron bars a cage”), it tests that idea against modern totalitarian conditions where prison means torture, at the grim-smiling sadistic hands of Filinto Müller.
Bethan Clark combines a similarity of appearance to Olga with a sense of weariness from long-term suffering. As she marks out the days, provides emotional comfort for younger women in prison and keep a sense of her self, the titles of Nadezhda Mandelstam’s two volumes of memoirs – Hope Against hope and Hope Abandoned – battle within her.
As a sign German’s not done with its past, and that political issues were beginning to be viewed through particular perspectives, the sexual brutality of male-led fascism, the play’s an interesting document. And it probably hits home on its own terms. But not in this production. Clark largely apart, the performances seem external; a traumatised, brutalised prisoner seeming an actress who’s removed a wig and is going through by-now-familiar Marat Sade twitchings. Rehearsal room improvisations lie all-too-evidently behind another prisoner’s kitten-like running to Olga for protection in an unbearable world, while the brutal Müller is sleek and poised without any of the threat he clearly needs to suggest through contrast.
It’s all one with a production that can be strong on externals but never digs beneath the surface, achieving momentary effects rather than a consistent sense of lived experience.
Olga Benario: Bethan Clark.
Filinto Müller: Pete Collis.
Genny: Sheena May.
Ana Libre: Ceridwen Smith.
Director: Samuel Miller.
Designer: Matt Sykes-Hooban.
Lighting: James Smith.
Sound/Composer: Ed Lewis.
Songs: Ewen Moore.