Rough Magic SEEDS: Way to Heaven

Rough Magic SEEDS present 'Way to Heaven'.

Rough Magic SEEDS present 'Way to Heaven'.

Rough Magic SEEDS present 'Way to Heaven'.

Rough Magic SEEDS present 'Way to Heaven'.

Rough Magic SEEDS present 'Way to Heaven'.

Rough Magic SEEDS present 'Way to Heaven'.

It is part of the intriguing project of this play — an imagining of the production of the illusion of peace and wellbeing created in Theresienstadt during World War II — to present the dramatisation of a lie in order to disseminate its truth: that a well thought-out, indeed, a well-produced piece of theatre fooled aid workers from around the world, and allowed the myth of the so-called Jewish resettlement go unchallenged. The play itself is entirely aware of this; the character of the Commandant (Karl Quinn) is fairly aware of this, just enough to be plausible, just enough to uncomfortable, just enough to be convincing, just enough to make us question what is the defining question of the text: how could anyone know what was happening, if they could only see what they saw?

Rough Magic SEEDSWhat they saw, in this case via the person of the Red Cross Representative (Daniel Reardon), was a genial, educated Nazi showing off the clean, healthy, if somewhat subdued environs of the ghetto, complete with gardens, playing children, courting couples, and musicians in the square. Accompanied by the oddly-mannered Mayor (Will O’Connell), the Red Cross Representative is exhorted to take as many photographs as he likes. Despite perhaps expecting to be stonewalled, and having been given such comprehensive access and mobility, he nevertheless feels something is awry; waiting for a signal of some distress that never comes, he goes home and writes a report that reflects exactly what he saw.

Behind the scenes, however, there was of course something else going on. The thwarted thespian tendencies of the Commandant are given free reign, and his coercion of the Mayor ripples throughout the community; as the regime’s factotum, the Mayor is desperate for the success of the ruse as he hopes it will reunite him and his daughter with his wife. All the ‘performers’ recognise the literal and figurative anomalies in the script — “People don’t talk like this in real life” is a frequent refrain — and are powerless to improvise. What looked like shockingly stilted performances from the off become exercises in the desperate drive to survive.

Rosemary McKenna directs with precision, and Zia Holly’s striking set, predominately a forest of microphones on stands, perfectly evokes both the natural setting of Theresienstadt and the symbolic need for us, in our time, to hear the truth, amplified. The cast are directed by McKenna to an excellent standard of life-and-death precision, as every movement is vital, and every mark must be hit with accuracy — or else. The use of three live musicians is apt, and yet another example of every detail having been seen to with intelligence and intense Rough Magic SEEDSattention. This is also meta-theatrically pleasing, given the high pressure and manic attention to detail of the fictional production. Here, Quinn brings his usual level of finesse and depth to what can be perceived to be a dangerously stock character: the learned Nazi, the reader of Shakespeare, the worldly traveller, with whom we may perhaps find ourselves starting to perceive as being as much a victim of the machine as anyone.

It is in this protagonist, and this performance, that the core of the play comes through, and demands we question what we ourselves have seen, and are seeing. That this trip came in 1944 seems ridiculous to us, knowing that the end of the war was nigh and that countless atrocities had taken place in the years leading up to it. That no one did anything speaks to the power of fear that the Third Reich engendered. These are all excuses that ring hollow in light of the eventual numbers — almost six million exterminated in the Final Solution — and survivor guilt is symbolised perfectly through the repetition of the actions and thoughts of all involved. The Red Cross Representative said he wrote his report every night for the rest of his life; it is clear that the need to keep telling stories of the Holocaust demonstrates that perhaps this moral dilemma can never be resolved.

Susan Conley

  • Review
  • Theatre

Rough Magic SEEDS: Way to Heaven by Juan Mayorga

5 - 14 December 2013

Produced by Rough Magic
In Project Arts Centre

Translated by David Johnston

Directed by Rosemary McKenna

Set & Lighting Design: Zia Holly

Costume Design: Liadain Kaminska

Sound Design: Jane Deasy

Sound Designer: Cameron McCauley

Dramaturg: Joanna Derkaczew

With: Daniel Reardon, Karl Quinn, Will O’Connell, Breffni Holahan and Jane Deasy, Ruairi Heading, Kieran Roche, Max Kearney, Justin Lasarev, Isaac O Sullivan, Levi O Sullivan, Kamsin Byrne, Aoife Ward