Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rough Magic, 'Way To Heaven': If a Tree Falls in a Forest ...

Rough Magic's SEEDS showcase shows us what really happened during the Red Cross inspection at the Nazi concentration camp in Theresienstadt.

Project Arts Centre,
Dec 9-14

My review of Way To Heaven by Juan Mayorga, as part of Rough Magic's SEEDS showcase, coming up just as soon as my walking stick covers up a multitude of sins ...

The name of the Nazi-controlled village in Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga's play - Himmelweg, or "Way to Heaven" - suggests a utopia in its soft utterance. Rosemary McKenna's decorous production for Rough Magic, however, shows that there is no paradise to be found.

In 1944 the Nazis permitted a Red Cross inspection at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Infamously, the inspector failed to flag any abuse of human rights.

We may not expect to overlook the cowardice of the Red Cross representative as easily but Daniel Reardon gives sweet humanity to a role that has been historically scathed. He details the visit to the camp in soft and sullen tones, meeting the local mayor Gottfried and the Nazi Commandant. The camp is eerily content; a balloon-salesman's luminous rewards give it the colour of a carnival, as children play and adults indulge romantic gestures in the main square. The Nazis had created a fit-up village to sell a homage to humanitarianism.

After Reardon's lengthy passage, delivered whilst negotiating Zia Holly's prickly set - containing thickets of gruff microphones and surrounded by high perimeter fences - we suspect the main subject of Mayorga's play to be the moral dilemma of its inspector. With the arrival of the detainees then, of Jewish men, women and children in a tableau of stylised scenes, we realise the greater objective: that of Nazi theatricality.

A turn in pace and energy comes with Karl Quinn and Will O'Connor as the Commandant and Gottfried, who reveal the rehearsal of the illusionary town. The Commandant, performed with rich gusto by Quinn, is an enigma in his marvelling of art, and in his frequent mentions of his library, never, in my recollection, cites a German work of literature.

Its play-within-a-play may be what attracted the piece to McKenna, who has previously directed work by Enda Walsh and Philip Stokes that also contained an interior and violent performativity. This wrought production stales the air with the trite theatricality of Nazi deception, with florescent balloons bobbing towards a beautiful abode. I don't think 'Heaven' is the term.

What did everybody else think?

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