"Secret and Lies of War"
by Maureen Mckarkiel for remotegoat on 19/07/15

Harris Freedman’s play tells a familiar story of the horror, displacement and trauma suffered by survivors of Nazi terror. What distinguishes Ella’s Secret from many of the others, however, is the blurred line it creates between guilt and innocence and how the re-telling of even catastrophic periods of history can be skewed to fit the storyteller’s version of events.
Freedman’s play comes from extensive research and first-hand accounts of Jewish survivors, and unusually for a staged play, the story centres around two older women. Ella is a sophisticated and urbane woman who has settled into a comfortable middle-class existence in London, the heart of a large loving family. In to this life of easy-going privilege Helga arrives unexpectedly and Ella’s world crashes around her.
Helga has travelled from Germany to ask for help on behalf of her husband Erick, a former SS Officer, who is in serious trouble. An uneasy and abrasive interaction between the two women soon develops into a conversation that tells us how both ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ have made questionable moral decisions. Ella is clearly the person who has suffered but the relationship between she and her captor, Helga’s husband, appears to have been more than victim and brute.
What Ella’s Secret does effectively is to question morality when applied to real, messy, complex life stories. Erick’s guilt is straightforward but what about his wife who claims she did not know what was going on during the war but still bears fresh bruises from a lifetime of his violence. More pertinently, do Ella’s experiences justify the decision she has taken and the secret she still keeps.
Both Pat Boothman and Peggy Mahon do a great job of conveying the complexity of the dilemma with passion, sensitivity and warmth.

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