Theatre Company Essay
“Ashes to Ashes” was presented by the “Badac Theatre Company”. A tragic piece of physical theatre telling the story of two Jewish men held in captivity at Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. Although this piece is non-naturalistic it portrays the horrifying truth of the ordeal that thousands of Jews suffered. The play started even before you got to your seat with the three performers reciting a Jewish prayer, their voices strong and in time with each other. This created a feeling of suspense, it’s not very often you come into a theatre to see the actors staring blankly out at you repeating over and over the same words.
The staging was simple, very minimalist. The only material objects being sheets of metal hanging upstage centre. And a metal rod used for beating them. The main acting happened within three spotlights, stage left and right was the prisoners, with upstage centre being the guard. In only one scene did the performance move out of the spotlights. Not too much variation there, making the performance rather static. The three men introduced their characters standing in the audience, directly addressing them; however, I didn’t ‘feel’ their characters.
There was no sense of emotion. They were telling of the happy times they had lived and how they were shattered by them being taken to Auschwitz, yet I felt no desire to help them, I did not feel sorry for them. The costumes were simple, but this is what would have been worn. Pyjama like uniforms, making everyone the same. You didn’t have much time to see these costumes before they were stripped off at the orders of the prison guard. The actors, with no embarrassment showing, stood naked. This was a defining moment, you felt embarrassment for them.
Another moment that the audience was made to feel uncomfortable, was “role call”, a time when the Jewish prisoners would know their fate. Do they get to live another day or get sent to the gas chambers to die? Bright lights were shone into the audience directly at eye level, drawing your attention to the action. However I feel this moment was repeated a few too many times. The same narrative was used at this moment and the effect was worn out. There was no physical contact between the two prisoners or between them and the guard.
The brutal beatings were portrayed by the guard hitting the sheets of metal, sending a charged sound around the theatre, catching everyone’s attention. The reactions from the prisoners however were not quite strong enough. Their reaction needed to be bigger and stronger to show their emotions. The use of repetition in this performance was important to show the lives of the prisoners. Their time in the camp was not easy, they worked day in and day out, and this is what we saw. The being forced to work in silence, pushing blocks. The pushing of these blocks was mimed. I thought this was effective and well done.
The actors successfully got across that they were struggling to push an immensely heavy object. This performance was let down when in a scene toward the end they walked around the stage as they were pushing the imaginary blocks. Their movement here seemed out of place, they were seemingly pushing the blocks with ease. I felt sure that one would collapse, but this didn’t happen. The repetition of “role call” and the working got tiresome towards the end. The same was happening each time therefore there was no tension. There were a number of scenes showing the prisoners at night when they were alone.
These scenes let you know a bit more about the character. But still I feel that I wasn’t involved enough with the characters. One actor had a multi-role. He played the guard and another prisoner aside of the two others. His role as a prisoner was different to the others, he didn’t push blocks for work, he took fellow Jews to the gas chambers. He told that he did this job because he got better food than if he pushed blocks. I thought his character was weak. Costume was not changed so he still looked like the guard, it took me a while to realise that he was playing a different character!
Physical theatre was used well to portray violence. At one point the guard ordered a prisoner to hit his friend who was ill. No contact was made, the prisoners were on opposite sides of the stage, but they reacted to each other. Although this was done well, it would have been more effective and the violence and brutality would have come across more maybe if there had of been contact. The performance ending was quite powerful. It started with “role call” which by this time we had seen a number of times. This time, the two prisoners were called out to be sent to their deaths.
Prisoners would be sent to their deaths if they failed to work or follow a command, but we had not seen the prisoners fail, so I failed to understand why they were sent to their deaths. The third prisoner greeted them at the doors of death, he explained to them where they should go in the chamber for the quickest death, to stop them suffering longer. Here the actors were again naked, as the Jews would have been. This added to the effect of the scene as it gave an uncomfortable feeling. As the gas was let into the chamber, the prisoner’s emotions were high; their facial expressions successfully showed their feeling of panic and sadness.
The recital of the Jewish prayer here was significant. It was entirely different to how it was said at the start of the performance. Instead of being blank and calm it was charged and panic stricken. The stage blacked out when they were on the floor. The actor of the guard was in the audience and he brought the performance to an end by summing up the story. Overall the intentions of the actors were clear. Ideas were creative and portrayed quite effectively. However, the characters needed more development so the audience could feel more emotionally involved, and for the performance to be more informative.