23 January 2016

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich at the Union Theatre

The Union Theatre is high up in my list of favourite theatres and that means that I see most of the shows put on there. Things go in phases though and after going there five time in the first half of last year I did not go at all in the second.

What brought me back was the name Bertolt Brecht. I am far from being  Brecht expert but I knew enough to know that I should know more.

I needed to be in that part of London to see an exhibition anyway so it made sense to plan a day around the two so the Saturday became domestics in the morning, galleries in the afternoon and theatre in the evening, with lots of walking along the way.

The weather was unkind late afternoon which made a great excuse to curtail the walking and seek refuge in the Union Jack pub opposite the theatre. The resting and recovering was greatly helped by a couple of pints to drink and vegetarian bangers and mash to eat. I was in there for almost an hour and a half so was able to do some reading too, I had my iPad with me and there are always lots of unread comics on it.

I left the pub briefly at 6:30pm to join the short queue for the theatre box office to collect my ticket (£20). I was in that queue early enough to secure one of the first ten tickets, I actually got number 8, so that I would be in the first group of people let into the theatre at 7:25. I went back to the pub to continue my rest before returning at the allotted time.

My careful planning got me the seat I wanted in the centre of front-row. Facing me was this pile of junk, the purpose of which I never established!

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich was never going to be a comedy but, other than that, I did not know what to expect so I sat back and went along for the ride.

The story, in summary, was the well-known one of Nazi persecution of Jews in the period immediate before WWII. What made this telling more poignant was that it was written by somebody who was there at the time so the situations were described honestly and were not coloured by hindsight.

This was a time when the Jews as a collective were being vilified but a few individuals were still untouched because of their position in society or their usefulness to senior government people. It was an unholy combination of tyranny, suspicion and corruption. Of course in this case it led to an extreme outcome but it was hard not to see the similarities to the way that migrants and refugees are portrayed today, and that made the play even more relevant and compelling.

The message of the play was told though a series of short scenes, with repeating characters, where we saw the persecutors, the persecuted, the scared of being persecuted next, the unsure of how to behave and the carried along without thinking too much. The atmosphere that this generated was tense and dangerous, but also gripping.

The cast were excellent throughout despite the difficulties of some of the roles, it was uncomfortable enough for me to hear people say "Heil Hitler" so it must have been hard for them to say it and with conviction too.

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich was a powerful play delivered with skill and care. It is hard to describe such an unpleasant story as enjoyable but there was enjoyment from the insights it gave.

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