"Eloquent creeping realisation of unimaginable"
by Rachel Knightley for remotegoat on 10/06/17

Rigid and claustrophobic in its simplicity, a bleach-white thin room with one bench against a wall seats a line of silent, frightened men. The painter (compelling and likable Lawrence Boothman), terrified to hysteria, attempts connection through desperate humour and speculation. Nobody knows why they have been rounded up, but each is fighting the creeping realisation before the play starts and their circles of fear, denial (Most exquisite in denial is PK Taylor, playing an actor), fury and despair shape the action in this Nazi waiting room that is clearly already a prison. What they are “guilty” of is not fake identity papers but Judaism.

Miller’s rapidly-written one act play is based on a true-life incident where a gentile saved a Jewish man’s life by handing him his own papers, letting him escape a Nazi round-up inspection in his place. In this play that man is an Austrian prince, struggling to find what he can do in the world to assuage his survivor guilt other than consider suicide. Edward Killingback is believably and convincingly sensitive as Von Berg but, frustratingly, does not quite emerge from the ensemble for the finale to the level Boothman leads it in, but Jeremy Gagan as the silent Old Jew, crying not for himself but for the youngest prisoner and the future, more than recovers the production any lost impact.

This script and, more impressively, this production succeeds in hitting the audience afresh with not only the worst of humanity but how we who are lucky enough will joke about, deny, dismiss or emotionally block the possibility, rather than imagine the unimaginable. Adjusting to a new space after transferring from the Finborough, Phil Wilmott’s casting and direction is all the more impressive for each prisoner knowing their own inner life so well. They is further to be reached in terms of knowing and finding the overall world, particularly as it exists for the guards behind the doors.

As message, it is exactly what it should be – a reminder that not being able to face the possibility of human evil’s scale does not stop it being real. But as theatre, this has to win a war against itself. The claustrophobia and isolation of the white set has its downside. There is nowhere to go physically, and in spite of set pieces which rely on there being no big change in the middle it is the energy of argument which must carry it. With a beginning to the run this strong, I have no doubt Wilmott’s production will win that war with itself.

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