It was the midnight of the 20th century, the day in 1942 when 15 Nazi bureaucrats met in the Wannsee suburb of Berlin to coordinate the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem” – murder on an industrial scale.
What happened during that 90-minute meeting was the subject of Conspiracy, an HBO movie in 2001 by Loring Mandel, who later adapted his screenplay for the stage. Now Edinburgh’s RFT is staging the play for two nights only at the Formation Festival, in a production directed by Robin Osman.
RFT – Reality Funds Theatre – is a non-profit grassroots theatre company based in Edinburgh for the production of new and (now) seldom staged works in the Edinburgh fringe scene.
“Conspiracy in its very title forces a bizarre irony on the audience and much more so now than when the HBO film first aired in 2001,” says RFT’s Ben Blow. “In an age where we have been conditioned to respond to the very word conspiracy with derision and disbelief we are confronted with just such a conspiracy.
“Conspiracy presents, albeit dramatised, a true event. A motley collection of male technocrats gather and, with the banality of any mundane company meeting, decide the fate of six million innocents. The relevance of this work is almost beyond argument as anti-Semitism is on the rise alongside desertions from major parties to fringe nationalism and quasi-fascism. However, there is a deeper relevance in ongoing debates concerning privilege, power and its frequent abuses.
“Loring Mandel’s stage adaptation of his Emmy-winning screenplay is a curious creature, a biography of an event; a tragedy known to the audience and with characters who cannot escape their own infamy.
“With the exception of Heydrich and Muller these are not the well known orchestrators of the Nazi state too often reduced to comic caricatures, rather these are faceless bureaucrats. Not only ordinary men but in some cases gifted and erudite men pressured or willingly implicated in mass murder.
“Where the play succeeds greatly is in tricking the audience in their search for a worthy man among them. Objections are raised and some are determined to oppose the horrors unfolding but not one among them has any doubt as to their superiority and by extension the inferiority of the Jewish people.
“Whenever a character reveals himself as opposed to the program, a vain flag of hope is waved only for the speaker to return to the mire of bigotry and hate.
“Mounting a production of Conspiracy has been no mean feat, organising a cast of 15 volunteer actors is a challenge in itself and that’s not even considering the weighty subject matter.
“The challenge to the actors is in faithfully presenting characters whose motivations and attitudes are rightly taboo. Much of our character development work has concentrated around intense and lengthy discussion of the men behind the characters, their lives and experiences.
Conspiracy in rehearsal. Pic Andrea Linhova
“We do this not in an attempt to understand that which decent humanity rejects but to present a play free of the cartoon-like connotations so often associated with the Nazi Elite. This is not a meeting of clowns, it is a meeting of serious men doing dreadful work and what should strike the audience is how easily such dissenters as there are fall in line.
“RFT are excited to be approaching a subject with rather more gravitas than our recent historical comedies would seem to have.
“Having poked fun at the acceptable faces of injustice and terror it is time to consider the banality of evil, mundane, callous and with a humour quite grotesque. We hope to be worthy of the challenge and hope our audience will engage with a text both shocking and cautionary.”
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU.
Wednesday 11/Thursday 12 July 2018
Tickets and details: Conspiracy Tickets.
Formation Festival preview: In Formation.