Aaron Hicklin joins a 156-strong rehearsal for a staging ofthe Holocaust novel, Badenheim 1939.
We sat on every chair available. crouched in every nook and cranny. and when there was no space left to sit. we stood. For more than an hour we listened to explanations. reiterations. expansions. We laughed when expected to. were silent when it was appropriate. A vision was on offer. and everyone wanted to be a part of it. Converting an entire building into a stage set. replete with town square pastry shops and swimming baths is no small task. Neither is co-ordinating over 150 non-professionals to act. sing. dance. play instruments. and design sets. But Edinburgh‘s'l‘heatre‘ Workshop is no stranger to challenge. Not long returned from Poland. where he directed over 1()() non-English speaking Poles. co-ordinator Adrian Harris is convinced that the re-emergence of fascism across Europe demands a response from theatre. The result is Badenheim 1939. an ambitious project. but one with a sense of
In concept it is theatre challenging theatre. daring to use an entire cast ofamateurs. forgoing a single director for a team. and encouraging a two-way ﬂow of ideas. In content it approaches some of the major moral issues ofour time. Possibly it is the only theatre to have done so. certainly it is the only theatre to tackle it with such ﬂair and imagination.
It was Harris's experience in Poland that lead him to choose Aharon Appelfeld‘s powerful novel Badenheim I 939 as this year's performance project. it is ambitious not only because it has never been adapted for stage before. but because ofits theme: the twilight months ofa Jewish community in an Austrian spa-town. oblivious — as no audience can possibly be — to the impending slaughter.
‘What people have got to engage in is the moral issues and questions.‘ says Harris. ‘Someone once said that for evil to triumph it only needs good men to do nothing. and I think that is a moral challenge. it‘s not apolitical one. It‘s important for people to remember that it did happen. and
that there is no reason why it can’t happen again.‘
It is a message which the cast has also had to acknowledge. it has done so through discussion and exercises which have developed into a group dynamic that enhances the sense of community so central to the play. Inter-personal relationships are one of Appelfeld‘s prime concerns. and the emphasis in rehearsal is on those fine threads which bond the characters. It partly works because the cast is not required to imagine a concentration camp or to put itselfin the shoes ofsurvivors, but instead to identify with the self-deception of the town‘s inhabitants.
‘Appclfeld is not dealing with the horrors ofthe Holocaust.‘ explains Harris. ‘He’s actually looking at the state of mind that allowed the Holocaust to happen. and because the novel is written in a very simple way there‘s a quality of fable about it that enables us to look at an extremely complex issue in terms which can be grasped by both participants and audience.‘
Badenheim is a mythical town. but it represents a real state of mind. It is the state of mind which is replicated today by those who react to the re-emergence of fascism as a passing trend. For the participants in this year‘s performance project adopting the characters ofBadenheim— singing. dancing. swimming and drinking oblivious to the sharpening ofknives around them — the consequences of ignoring events in Europe are all too apparent.
Badenheim I 939, Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh. Wed lQ—Sat 22 Feb.
In a move which makes Theatre Clywd’s male Gertrude look like minor tinkering, the Sphinx company (the newly-renamed Women’s Theatre Group) are coming to town with The Roaring Girl’s Hamlet, an all-woman version oi Shakespeare‘s tragedy. Set in 1605, the show presents a troupe of rogueish women, cross-dressing rebels, performing Hamlet at a time when the theatres where it could be
seen were out of bounds to respectable
The idea behind the show has a historical basis in the existence of a notorious 17th century London character named Mary Frith, better known as Moll Cutpurse, who
frequented taverns, tobacco shops and
theatres dressed as a man. Nicknamed the ‘Hoaring Girl’, she was and is a potent figure of rebellion - cross-dressing was a shocking violation oi Elizabethan laws and conventions.
The Sphinx’s artistic director, Sue Parrish, sees the production as a way oi opening up the drama to new ideas and interpretations. ‘We’re not trying to impose any kind of feminist message,’ she says, ‘but I think
Ruth Mitchell in The Roaring Girl's Hamlet
Hamlet, at many different levels, does explore notions oi masculinity and
rite-of-passage experience everyone goes through.’
Some of the issues raised by the production will be addressed at a debate during its run, examining ways that women working in the theatre can break free from the narrow confines of the ‘women's theatre’ label. ‘I think there is a ‘glass ceiling’ overthe definition of theatre, which tends to exclude work by women,’ says the organiser Charlotte Keatiey, writer-in-residence at the Sphinx. ‘lt has to do with the people at the power points- literary managers, critics, the people who define the standards - most of whom are men. A lot of the energy and new ideas that are around have come from the women entering theatre over the past twenty years, but
5 as long as it’s called ‘women’s work’ it‘s not acknowledged as being part of
femininity. Women playing men throws
a new light on the characters and their relationships, Hamlet in particular-
anyway. A lot of male productions involve a kind oi sub-Freudian exploration oi a young man’s desire for his mother, and i don’t think the play’s about that; I think the heart of the play is a young person’s sense of betrayal at discovering that his parents aren’t gods, which is a powerful
the broader new wave. We need to assert, through this kind of high-profile public debate, that women are there — talking, thinking, arguing about vision,
' language, imagination-to get across , the idea that it’s the art being made there’s so much of the ‘feminine’ in him :
that’s important, not just the fact that
; it’s a woman making it.’ (Sue Wilson)
The Hearing Girl’s Hamlet, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Thurs 27 Feb-Sun 1 Mar.
The Glass Ceiling Debate: Women in Theatre in the 903, Traverse Theatre, Sat 29 Feb, 2—5pm, £2.50.
I Theatre Scotland issue one of Scotland‘s ﬁrst quality quarterly magazine devoted to theatre is published on Friday 3 April. promising substantial interviews with theatre practitioners. background articles. opinionated comment and a complete playscript. A year‘s subscription costs £13 (including postage) and is available from Theatre Scotland. 5 Gayfield Street. Edinburgh EH] 3NR.
V IN PRINT
I Shooting the Actor Simon Callow (Vintage £5.99) Published in paperback for the first time on Thursday 20 February. Shooting the Actor is Simon Callow‘s witty and personal account of working with film director Dusan Makavcjcv on what turned out to be a disastcrous film project. As a sequel to his Being an Actor. it gives a candid and human insight intothc behind-the-scencs workings of cinema and the life ofa performer. Callow is currently directing a production of lily Fair Lady which visits
Fiona Shaw is Electra
I Sophocles: Plays Two Sophocles (Methuen £4.99) Those of you lucky enough to get tickets to thc RSC‘s short sell-out run of Electra at Glasgow's Tramway might care to check out this volume which includes the same Kenneth McLeish translation. McLeish's philosophy is that translators ’should be adept at handling not so much the language (they) are working from. as (their) own.‘ a belief reﬂected in this accessible version of Electra. Also in the volume are Ajax. Women of Trachis and Philoctetes. each with an introduction by the respective translators and with a general piece by]. Michael Walton.
The List 14 — 27 February 1992 45