Rediscovered theatrical works, created by prisoners of the Theresienstadt Ghetto and lost for more than 60 years, are staged in London for the very first time.
BLOOMSBURY THEATRE, Saturday 7th – Sunday 8th February 2015
Between 2004 and 2008, lecturer and academic Dr Lisa Peschel conducted interviews with more than 70 survivors of the notorious Theresienstadt Ghetto (in Czech, Terezín), leading to the discovery of some of the most revealing theatrical works from the Second World War. Providing a unique insight into both the experiences of those living in the ghetto and their lives preceding their imprisonment, her recently published collection of plays includes 11 previously unknown texts ranging from cabarets and puppet plays to verse dramas, several of which will be performed in London for the first time this February.
Divided into two acts, this staging opens with Laugh With Us, which sees UCL students perform extracts of songs and scenes from a full length cabaret of the same name alongside a selection of other comic works. Comedy and cabaret, which constitutes a surprising number of the works discovered, reveals how theatrical techniques were used to ‘normalize’ conditions of the ghetto, attempting to make its structures appear less threatening to those imprisoned there. The second act The Smoke of Home, performed by University of York students, is a one-act historical allegory, set in the Thirty Years’ War, that confronts the question: if we survive, will we be able to return to the home we knew? Dr. Peschel and Professor Michael Berkowitz, Professor of Modern Jewish History AT UCL, will introduce the performances.
In her article Voices From The Edge of the Abyss, Dr Lisa Peschel writes, “The texts provide us with a view, not into the darkness of anonymous death, but into a wide range of individual voices and the prisoners’ struggles during the last months of their lives: their fight to assign some meaning to their fate, their efforts to help each other gain some temporary relief from their suffering, and above all, their commitment to continue to live as human beings in a dehumanizing environment… They reveal how, on the stages of the ghetto, the prisoners struggled to preserve aspects of normal prewar life—even in such an abnormal environment—and to represent the events and conditions of Terezín in a way that made their experiences more bearable.”
The Theresienstadt Ghetto was established by the SS during World War II in the fortress and garrison city of Terezín, just 40 miles northwest of Prague. Approximately 144,000 people were deported there, of whom over 30,000 died at the camp itself, mostly through hunger, stress, and disease. About 88,000 prisoners were deported further to Auschwitz and other extermination camps, including Treblinka. The Ghetto played a prominent role in Nazi propaganda, and was depicted as an independent ‘Jewish settlement area’, in part because of the vibrant artistic life that existed there. However, the vast majority of cultural events were initiated by the prisoners, for the prisoners. Most of the artists perished after the autumn of 1944, when two-thirds of the ghetto’s population was deported to Auschwitz.
Dr. Lisa Peschel is a lecturer in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York. She is editor of the anthology Performing Captivity, Performing Escape: Cabarets and Plays from the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto (Seagull Press 2014).
Running Time: 2 hours | Suitable for Ages: 12 and above
Funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council
Laugh with Us: Directed by Leo Doulton
Cast Roisa Anne, Grace Arnolds, Tim Frith, Hayden Munt, Charlotte Nohavicka & Charlotte Peitzmeier.
The Smoke of Home: Directed by Joe Lichtenstein
Cast Sam Hill, Matthew Roberts, Jason Ryall, Sophie Mann, Matthew Roberts, Jason Ryall & Josh Welch
Bloomsbury Theatre, 15 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AH
Saturday 7th February at 7.30 pm, Sunday 8th February at 3.00 pm, 2015 | £14, £8 (concs)
Tuesday 6th January 2015