Review: Drowned Or Saved?
Image: Tristan Bates Theatre
Marco Gambino as Primo Levi
Paula Cassina as Lucia / Mrs Giordanino / Vanda
Alex Marchi as Elijah / Rabbi / Pawe? / Höes / Alex / Man on train
Eve Nikeras Null Achtzehn
The weight of a life spent bearing witness.
Tomorrow meant never …
I think the last time I thought of tomorrow with any hope was on the train to Auschwitz."
A decade on from surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp, chemist and writer Primo Levi is restless as he struggles to complete what will be his final published work.
In search of guidance, he pulls from the memories which haunt him and inadvertently brings the characters from his past to life - though their input proves to be far more penetrating than expected.
In this poignant, potent play peppered with cheeky Yiddish humour, Geoffrey Williams invites you to embark on Primo's cross-world journey which explores the ambiguity of human nature as defined by one of the twentieth century's greatest thinkers.
It can't have escaped your attention that this coming Sunday sees the centenary of the armistice that brought an end to The Great War of 1914-18.
As we remember that long and bloody conflict and its many fallen, it's not inappropriate to remember an aspect of another war which followed it some 2 decades later and which still provides a crucially important warning from history.
Directing his own new play, Geoffrey Williams takes us inside the mind of Jewish writer Primo Levi, born in Italy in the aftermath of the Great War.
As an anti-Fascist, he was captured in 1943 and, when the Germans occupied northern Italy, he was deported to Auschwitz and later wrote an account of surviving the dreaded death camp entitled 'If This Is a Man'.
Marco Gambino - photo by Ewa Ferdynus
Mr Williams' atmospheric and sometimes harrowing piece finds Primo Levi in his gloomy office struggling to complete a story, but he's plagued by nightmares of his war-time experiences such as getting to Auschwitz in a cattle truck crammed full of people and moments from his life at the camp that include manhandling railway sleepers.
The back wall of Primo's office is wood-lined allowing for an effective transformation to the interior of a railway wagon and symbolic of the huts that housed prisoners at Nazi concentration camps.
Marco Gambino, as Primo Levi, leads a fine ensemble impressively directed by Geoffrey Williams.
Mr Gambino gives us a sensitive and humane man still bedevilled by his life in the death camp.
Eve Niker's moving and acutely distressing portrayal of a young prisoner near to death, who makes monumental efforts to carry railway sleepers, disturbingly haunts the play almost for its entirety, echoing Levi's unnerving and unrelenting recollections.
And there's fine support from Paula Cassina and Alex Marchi who each play numerous characters in the exposition.
There's not much in this play that is particularly new or unique in terms of elucidating the incredible suffering of prisoners in Auschwitz - the many films and documentaries about concentration camps have all played a part in informing us of the nature of the atrocities.
But Drowned Or Saved? is nevertheless an important work of remembrance, framing the experiences of those sent to the death camps as a personalised and graphic testament that also highlights the ongoing, endless suffering of those who survived.
The play is also a powerful reminder of how gross inhumanity on an almost unbelievable scale can be so easily unleashed and focused on particular groups within our human family, and that alone is sufficient justification for this powerful and relevant drama ... lest we forget.
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