"Concentration Camp Cabaret Disconcerts Audience"
by Penny Culliford for remotegoat on 13/03/19

The most worthwhile plays surprise you by teaching you something new and drive you to research (albeit Google) to find out if it is true. The Project is one such play. We are all familiar with Nazi Concentration Camps such as Auschwitz and Belsen, and the horrors they embodied, but I had never heard of Westerbork, the Dutch transit camp upon which Ian Buckley’s play is based, and I certainly didn’t know the Jewish internees held a regular cabaret there.
The Project follows a troupe of Jewish entertainers, easily identifiable by the large yellow star with the word “Jude” on it, attached to their clothes. They are Anna, a dancer (Faye Maughan); her sister Millie (Eloise Jones); Peter, a young comedian (Nick Delvallé) and impresario Victor (Lloyd Morris). Anna and Millie’s mother, Ette (Cate Morris) is in hospital and all of them are at the mercy of the Nazi Camp Commandant, Conrad Schaffer (Mike Duran).
The characters are preparing for one of the regular shows at the camp when Anna is summoned to clean for Herr Shaffer. The characters dance, both physically and metaphorically as the relationship between them is explored and played out. Musical Director Stefan Potiuk provides us with the music, performed by the cast, which should be light relief but somehow isn’t as it is impossible to divorce it from the grim context.
The benefit of hindsight and knowing what happened to so many Jewish people in Europe at that time makes the play even more heart-breaking and terrible because of the hope that underpins the actions of all the characters. The normality and beauty of the dance and music, the jokes; the chilling “pleasantness” of Mike Duran’s character and the hope of escape or liberation, contrasts with what the audience knows to be a destination which few evaded.
The cast is solidly directed by Anthony Shrubsall and the characters are well written and consistently performed by the cast. The stand out was the energetic Nick Delvallé, whose physicality and beautiful voice provided a genuine glimpse of light.
I loved the dramatic and devastating final seconds of the play, but felt the scene preceding it dipped slightly in energy and momentum.
This is a play I won’t forget for all the right reasons.

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