Review: Incident At Vichy
Image: Phil Willmott Company
Lebeau, a Painter - Lawrence Boothman
Major - James Boyd
Gypsy - Andro Crespo
Boy - Daniel Dowling
Old Jew - Jeremy Gagan
Professor Hoffman - Timothy Harker
Von Berg, a Prince - Edward Killingback
Marchand and Police Captain - Christopher Laishley
Bayard, an electrician - Brendan O'Rourke
Waiter - Michael Skellern
Monceau, an actor - PK Taylor
Leduc - Henry Wyrley-Birch
“Jews are not a race, you know.
They can look like anybody.”
The first professional London production in over 50 years.
Arthur Miller’s largely forgotten masterpiece about Jewish registration in Nazi occupied France burns with a terrifying topical intensity.
In the detention room of a Vichy police station in 1942, eight men have been picked up for questioning but none are told why they are held, or when they can leave.
At first, their hopeful guess is that only their identity papers will be checked - but as each man is removed for interrogation, some are set free, some are never seen again, and the stakes rise for those who remain …
A haunting examination of the cold, bureaucratic efficiency of evil - and the shared humanity that might overcome it.
Incident at Vichy premiered on Broadway at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in December 1964, directed by Harold Clurman.
The New York Times called it “One of the most important plays of our time … Incident at Vichy returns the theater to greatness.”
It was last seen professionally in London in January 1966 at the Phoenix Theatre.
After a critically acclaimed, sell-out run at the Finborough Theatre, Phil Willmott's new production of Arthur Miller's play transfers to the King's Head Theatre.
ActDrop's Peter Brown reviewed this production at the beginning of its run at the Finborough Theatre.
"Arthur Miller's cautionary play still bristles with unsettling, yet compelling relevance, producing an engrossing and unmissable evening's drama".
I reviewed this show just after it started its initial run at the Finborough Theatre back in March this year.
Moving a production from its initial home to another theatre can be fraught with difficulties.
Thankfully, though, the exemplary work of director Phil Willmott and the combined efforts of his fine creative team and terrific cast have survived the transition with all the elements of the production in tact.
Well, when I say "in tact", I should qualify that a little because the set has changed a touch to fit with the different stage at the King's Head.
The pure-white, box-like structure which enclosed the whole action at the Finborough has been replaced by white walls and sheets, lending something of a (realistic) wartime economy to proceedings.
Though the original set, designed by Georgia De Grey, emphasised the notion of racial purity and enhanced the claustrophobic terror of the atmosphere, the minor changes do not distract our attention from the fundamental issues.
And the play as a whole still bears its core relevance, emotional power and acute, almost overwhelming, poignancy.
In fact, if anything, a second viewing of this extraordinarily compelling work proves even more revelatory in exposing Arthur Miller's full range of ideas in even starker and more frightening detail.
The cast present characters ranging across society in 1940's Vichy France.
A waiter, an electrician, an actor and a Prince among others have been arrested by the Nazis and taken to a detention centre awaiting interrogation.
The play focuses on the interactions between these detainees as they try to work-out just why they have been arrested and what is likely to happen to them in the future.
As the drama proceeds we hear a variety of opinions about what the Nazis are up to - think of it as a little like the BBC's Question Time with conflicting views expressed, but where the stakes are much greater: life or death!
Some of the characters have heard of concentration camps, and one describes 'furnaces' designed to kill people.
But not all are convinced that the Nazis want to eradicate them from the face of the earth, nor that the rule of law has completely broken down.
So, even though there seems a chance of escape, they don't seize the opportunity and that bears the suggestion that racial groups during the Second World War might have been in some way complicit in effecting their own demise.
Though that is certainly one of the points Arthur Miller raises, his play is much more complex than that might seem, because it also points to the enormous difficulty of comprehending and accepting when normal government has vanished and replaced by unimaginably monstrous evil.
As with all crucially important and thought-provoking drama - and Incident At Vichy is right up there with the very best of them - we're asked to consider what we would do in such situations, and it makes for very uncomfortable and unsettling viewing, even if Arthur Miller leaves us with a sliver of comfort to clutch on to.
Phil Willmott's inordinately moving production of this masterly play has lost none of its affecting potency in the process of transferring and, quite simply, demands to be heard.
Special ticket offer
The King's Head Theatre has kindly provided a special offer for ActDrop visitors on tickets for Incident At Vichy - just use the promo code ACTDROP250 on the theatre's ticket page to get £2.50 off every standard seat throught the run.
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