Fear and Misery of the Third Reich

In Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

✭✭✭✩✩    Bitty but braw

Assembly Roxy: Thurs 16 – Sat 18 April 2015

Brecht gets a comedic turn at the Assembly Roxy this week, as the QMU students of Cobweb Theatre bring a funny and relevant production of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich.

Set in the Germany over the years leading up to the declaration of the second world war, Brecht uses a series of 24 sketches to show the rise of the Nazi party and its effect on common people.

James Miller and Maegan Hearons. Photo: Connel Burnett

Here is vicious parody, one couple discuss having turned a neighbour in to the police – they are happy that he deserved it but not that his sleeve was torn as he was bundled down the stair. Another couple are paranoid about their own child reporting them to the Hitler Youth.

Gemma McGinley’s direction is clever but unfussy. The first couple are surrounded by their neighbours, listening in with plastic cups against the wall. As the talk gets more out-of-hand, the neighbours press in on the couple until one can even reach over and grab food out of a bowl.

There are some 88 different roles in the script, which McGinley disperses amongst her eight performers in a relatively gender neutral manner. Costumes and props are at the most basic and a pair of onstage doors define the playing area.

On stage throughout, and mingling with their audience pre-show or taking selfies on stage, this all helps the performers keep up the Brechtian ideal of epic theatre, which ensures that the artificial nature of the performance is always clear.

intense individual performances

That doesn’t excuse some of the delivery, however. Some of the sketch playlets are tiny, practically all punchline, and need to be delivered with a real clarity which is not always there.

The five Judiths. Maegan Hearons with Itsaso Etxeberria Monreal, Gillian Bain, Noora Muhonen and Erin Louise McGee. Photo Connel Burnett

There are some nicely intense individual performances and performers in the ensemble. Maegan Hearons is a vital spark on stage, always on the move. James Miller is a more solid presence, but able to turn his performance in many different directions. Noora Muhonen and Gillian Bain both provide strong performances on many occasions.

Of all the different pieces, The Jewish Wife has the most profound effect. A regular solo audition piece, McGinley here has her five female actors each play a character, Judith, phoning her friends to tell them she is leaving for Amsterdam.

As each actor gives a different nuance to the conversations, the others are packing in the background, or waiting their turn on the phone, letting their hair down as they do. The arrival of Judith’s physicist husband (James Hughes) feels almost irrelevant – she has already moved on.

It is Hitler’s Germany from which she is escaping, but there is a feeling it could be any other state, modern or historical, from which a defined minority are forced to flee. And as such, there is a real relevance to it.

A relevance which was only intensified during half time of last night’s opening performance, scrolling through the tweeted comments on the opposition leader’s debate.

And again, with the final sketch, Consulting the People, in which McGinley ensures that Brecht’s message is clear. This is about ordinary people turning round to the rich and powerful who control their lives and saying enough, is enough.

Running time 2 hours 30 minutes (including one interval)
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 April 2015.
Evenings: 7.30pm.

Tickets and details: http://www.assemblyfestival.com/event.php?id=13
Cobweb Theatre tumblr: http://cobwebtheatre.tumblr.com/
Cobweb Theatre Facebook page: CobwebTheatreCompany



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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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