PLAYING FOR TIME
by Arthur Miller based on the memoir by Fania Fénelon.
Crucible Theatre 55 Norfolk Street S1 1DA To 4 April 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 25 March 2.30pm.
Audio-described/BSL Signed 26 Mar.
Captioned 28 Mar 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 26 Mar.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 0114 249 6000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 March.
TV translated skilfully to stage.
Near the end of Stefan Ruzowitzky’s 2007 film The Counterfeiters the Nazis flee Sachsenhausen concentration camp as the Russians approach, and prisoner Salomon Sorowitsch steps from the hut where he and fellow Jews had lived comparatively easy lives while supposedly trying to forge bank-notes to flood Allied economies. He’s shocked by the stick-thin prisoners outside, who assume the well-fed forgers must be Germans.
The film’s based on a factual account, as is Arthur Miller’s 1980 TV script about popular night-club singer Fania Fénelon and her fellow musicians who avoided the worst of Auschwitz by playing marches to send other prisoners to their day’s work and provide musical entertainment for the Germans. As his earlier play Incident at Vichy showed, Miller was aware of the disparity between the Nazis’ love of music and their cruelty.
Duty wipes-out any humane instinct in the Germans. Auschwitz tests all humanity: Polish prisoners despise Jewish. The orchestra’s conductor, Alma Rosé, severe as her connection to demanding conductor Gustav Mahler would suggest, refuses her players extra rations until they perform to her standard.
The difference between woman and woman, with the letting-go of social restraints leads to love, sex or hate. An officer poisons an inmate to prevent her being released from a camp that imprisons guards as well as inmates. Occasionally something crops-up in isolation, ill-digested amid the flow of events. Theatre’s human focus generally requires more than the sudden stabs of points which can work on screen.
Mostly, though, Richard Beecham’s production flows well, never being held-up as it changes gear to prevent monotony of mood. A sunken pit provides the motif of the Auschwitz train where initially puzzled prisoners take time to work-out they’ve been rounded-up because they’re Jews. Only the Nazis, grey and detached in their few words, roam the ramparts round the pit. Prisoners rarely make it there, and if so are pulled around like animals.
Strong performances surround Siân Phillips’ Fania, a detailed portrayal showing the calculation of when to speak or be silent and the refusal to surrender humanity, despite captivity. That’s the manner of Miller, through and through.
Fania Fénelon: Siân Phillips.
Marianne: Melanie Heslop.
Frau Schmidt: Holly de Jong.
Elzieta: Pascale Burgess.
Tchaikowska/Mala: Alexia Traverse-Healy.
Etalina: Imogen Daines.
Hélène: Kate Adams.
Liesle: Emma Darlow.
Alma Rosé: Amanda Hadingue.
Maria Mendel: Kate Lynn-Evans.
Captain Heinz/Schmuel: Danny Scheinmann.
Paulette: Augustina Seymour.
Greta/Olga: Maeve O’Sullivan.
Commandant Kramer: Christopher Staines.
Mengele: James Duke.
Esther: Noa Bodner.
Varya: Rebecca Jenkins.
Ensemble (Sheffield People’s Theatre): Denise Appleton, Tom Boydell, Ina Charnley, Ned Cooper, Jennifer Derbyshire, Ian France, Michele Gardner, Daniel Holmes, Mariah Louca, Andrew Raftery, Janice Sampson, Kate Spivey, Jonathan Syer.
Boy: Joe Kinch/William Oxley/Luke Speddings/Gabriel WSalton-Ryan.
Director: Richard Beecham.
Designer: Ti Green.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: Melanie Wilson.
Composer/Lyricist/Musical Director: Sam Kenyon.
Movement: Lucy Hind.
Fight directors: Rachel Bown-Williams, Ruth Cooper-Brown.
Assistant director: Peter Bradley.