You probably know that following the end of the Second World War, the victorious allies prosecuted senior members of the Nazi hierarchy in a series of trials at the Nazi Party’s spiritual home in Nuremburg. What you may not know is that in the 1960s there were more war crime trials – specifically around events that happened in Auschwitz – and these form the basis of Peter Weiss’ new play The Investigation which I saw at the Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham.
There didn’t appear to be a plot as such to this production and, I have to admit, I was a little sceptical of where it was going after the opening sequence. Whilst I do not necessarily think that Donald Trump and Theresa May are the best leaders of their respective country, I’m not sure that lumping them in with Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, and Adolph Hitler was entirely appropriate or relevant. However, once this opening was over, the actors – Dominic Vallance, Jake McDaid, and Matt Penson – got down to the real nitty-gritty of the production. Acting out various pieces of testimony from the Frankfurt trials. The actors flip roles as each new piece comes up, so each could be a witness, defendant, prosecutor or judge as they present each story. The production makes great emphasis on the fact that the words are quoted verbatim and there is no embellishment of the testimony. This makes some of the stories even more harrowing to listen to. The witnesses are, on the whole, calm and poised, telling their tale to a court in a low voice devoid of emotion and humanity. The defendants, on the other hand, are portrayed as loud, sometimes sneering, members of the so-called ‘master race’ who hide behind the old excuse of ‘only obeying orders’ I think, for me, the most interesting of the characters was the Railway Inspector who, whilst denying it to himself, was obviously aware of what happened to the inhabitants of the freight/cattle trucks that passed him on their way to Auschwitz.
And this raised an interesting point. It is so easy to sit in a theatre judging the actions of those that took part in the various activities within the camps. We would all like to think that we would have acted differently. But, and here’s the rub, if you live in a totalitarian state, where people disappeared after making a seemingly innocuous comment about the nation’s leadership, then would you really fight against the system and maybe find yourself in one of those trucks heading to the ramp and selection?
Overall, The Investigation was really thought-provoking. Matt, Dominic, and Jake are three very good actors who assumed a variety of guises to bring the various witnesses and defendants to life. So we have the nervous Franz-Johann Hofmann and the unrepentant Hans Stark, both such different characters but both highly involved in the killing machine that was Auschwitz. At times, listening to the testimony can be quite uncomfortable. It is easy to remember that these events not only happened a couple of generations ago but are also being replicated to a lesser degree in some totalitarian states today.
A fascinating production that delivers a bit of a punch and really makes the audience think about themselves and their ability to influence the events around them.
Review by Terry Eastham
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. The Investigation is a dramatic re-construction of the Frankfurt war crime trials which dealt with the atrocities committed at the concentration camps of WWII such as Auschwitz. Based on actual evidence given, No manipulation of the facts and no rearrangement of events. Would you have had the courage to stand up to your oppressors? You might have to.
Cast: Alex Bird, Jake McDaid, Matt Penson & Dominic Vallance
Mad Wolf Theatre presents
by Peter Weiss