At the end of the hour, there was no curtain call, no change in lighting; the doors to the tiny theatre were quietly opened. An actor remained, whimpering, lashed to the infernal machine onstage as he had been when we arrived. One member of the audience clapped, tentatively, twice, but for the most part we sat then filed out in silence. This was clearly the desired response.
Like The Riot Group's The Zero Yard, Badac Theatre Company's production is intense Theatre-of-Cruelty material. If it succeeds more palpably, it is because this production demands audience complicity in its unremitting brutality. It is our function, we are told directly, to bear witness to the torture in Auschwitz's Block 11 of Yehoshua, who claims to be the returned Messiah. Two SS officers (in black T-shorts and matching combat pants) – not so much good cop/bad cop as smooth cop/rough cop – set about making him deny his God. A metal sheet upstage is deafeningly battered to symbolise the beatings of Yehoshua. English poetry and scriptural verse is quoted at the victim in rebuttal of his faith.
The argument is simple but not simplistic, although it strikes one as strange that a regime should identify itself with evil as explicitly and repeatedly as these two officers do. In the words of Dysart in Shaffer's Equus (to which this play bears no other connection), the extremity is the point here. There is no moral debate, simply the stark, remorseless point that anyone can be broken.
Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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