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Review of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich at Brockley Jack

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich - Photo credit James Wordsworth
Fear and Misery of the Third Reich – Photo credit James Wordsworth

I wonder why more productions don’t follow the pre-show format from Aequitas Theatre in this production of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, warmly welcoming the audience and helping them to their seats. The only other time I’ve experienced this sort of introduction was at a production of Ushers The Musical, in which cast members were more than convincing enough to ‘be’ ushers as the audience filed in: one patron even opened their bag as they approached a cast member, as though anticipating a security check.

With a play title like this one, it was somewhat inevitable that the atmosphere in the theatre was not to remain all sweetness and light. The play spares audiences horrid re-enactments of the worst effects of the Nazi regime’s unrelenting brutality, meted out on those who did not precisely conform to the expected standards. Germany was not, of course, the only place where ordinary citizens were encouraged to be careful with their words – Britain’s Ministry of Information embarked on the infamous ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ campaign.

The verses that introduce each scene in Bertolt Brecht’s text (of which there are several versions, simply because several versions were performed under Brecht’s direction as the play developed) are now replaced in this production by news bulletins from the current era. These are different times from the late 1930s, and where once dissent was actively shut down, it now thrives. Still, it’s an interesting juxtaposition, which itself will likely have its dissenters as well as apologists. My own personal view is that references to Brexit and Trump are not necessary, and the play is best performed these days as a period piece, with the audience left to make up its own mind as to its contemporary relevance.

I didn’t keep a tally, but there were a large number of scenes in this production, and the scenes are only loosely connected – each one has its own characters, which are in that particular scene only, without so much as cursory references being made to earlier (or later) characters. The scenes are not necessarily in chronological order. The production almost felt like a scratch night with an overarching theme, a feeling compounded by some seemingly lengthy scene changes.

Some characters are named, but most are not, and all are listed in the script by occupation: no character names are listed in the show’s programme. The stand-out highlight for me was a poignant scene in which a Jewish woman tells, or rather attempts to tell, her husband that she is leaving Germany (and therefore leaving him), officially to go on holiday for a while. There was a raw frustration at not being able to say what she really wanted to say to him: whether this was for personal reasons, political reasons, or both, I couldn’t possibly say.

It’s an intriguing play, inasmuch as it is filled with personal stories, rather than details of key events of the era that could easily be read about elsewhere. I would have liked a moment or two of comic relief. Either way, this is very much an ensemble production, a real team effort. And if you’re after something thought-provoking and challenging, this is a production worth checking out.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

The world is under the threat of fascism and war is looming ever closer. Liberalism and socialist ties are condemned by those in power. How did we get here?
Aequitas takes Brecht’s Fear and Misery of the Third Reich and applies it to our modern global society, taking a look at the lives of average people and the reasons they comply with those in power.
Set in the near future, this piece imagines what the world might become if we continue to repeat our mistakes.
“Our task is very difficult, but it’s the greatest one there is – to free the human race from its oppressors.”

Aequitas Theatre Company presents
Fear and Misery
of the Third Reich
by Bertolt Brecht
translated by John Willett

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
http://www.brockleyjack.co.uk/

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