by Michael Ashton.
Waterloo East Theatre Brad Street SE1 8TN To 27 May 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 4pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7928 0060.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 May.
Prison privileges in drama of violent times.
In a so-far brief playwriting career, Michael Ashton has had one play signed-up for filming by Hollywood, and another (this one) by a Canadian film company. So he probably doesn’t need too much advice on how to write.
Yet, with more experience he could have avoided some of the more explicit moments of violence during his story of a concentration camp prisoner protected from the worst elements of life for Jewish inmates by his skill as an apiarist, providing honey and royal jelly for the Kommandant’s family.
The violence itself is nothing unusual – guns, kneeling, self-humiliation. But the force of theatre brings them close to complicity. Only once has this really worked, in Pip Simmons’ mid-70s An Die Musik, in which the guilt of complicity became part of the show, making audiences accountable to themselves. It was a brilliant, indirect form of terror – this was what it felt like to look the other way.
Stephen Poliakoff almost managed it in a graphic scene of Joe’s Palace. But here the humiliation is shouted when it could be more powerful if less blatant.
Menachem Stressler’s privileged position recalls the ‘privileged’ concentration camp inmates of Stefan Ruzowitzky’s film The Counterfeiters, making mass banknote forgeries.
It will be interesting to see whether the film opens out Ashton’s action from Stressler’s room and his beehives to give a wider sense of the camp; reports are made by fellow-prisoner Kolbe, whose messages eventually link with the indeterminate temper of Kommandant Baer (the name, if not necessarily the nature, comes from an historical prison-commander).
Like The Counterfeiters, this is set in the War’s later days, with overhead plane sounds and the final advance of gunfire unnerving Baer, a character in whom cruelty and attempts to understand Stressler and himself compete.
Adrian McDougall rightly risks silent scene changes, unsweetened by music, and the playing is robust if not searching into every cranny of the central characters. Still, once Ashton’s exploration of Stressler’s predicament leads him to find dignity in assertion, the play becomes pistol-point gripping, finding a local habitation within the wide miasma of the Nazi terror.
Menachem Stressler: Eliot Giuralarocca.
Richard Baer: Robert Harding.
Solomon Kolbe: Chris Westgate.
Sergeant Beck: Spencer Cummins.
Director: Adrian McDougall.
Designer: Victoria Spearing.
Lighting: Charlotte McClelland.
Sound: Tom Neill.
Costume: Hannah Gibbs.
Assistant director: Derek Florey.