Sunday, 11 February 2001

The Singing Forest, Feb 11, 2001

 by Julia Britton
at Theatreworks from February 10 (no closing date), 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Auschwitz is not unknown to us. We see documentary footage of the bodies, furnaces, gas chambers, graves and sheds in which Jews, Gypsies, Poles and other enemies of the Third Reich were incarcerated and murdered.

The real footage is horrific. To attempt to replay that horror on stage in the theatre is courageous and nigh impossible.

What makes The Singing Forest fail in this attempt is the expository writing of Julia Britton and the graphic violence shown in scenes by director Robert Chuter. We become desensitised to the violence by the constant beatings, rapes and violations of prisoners in a semi-realistic manner.

The repetition, in both dialogue and monologues, of descriptions of violence similarly inures us to pain. If the writer stopped preaching and telling us how the characters feel rather than showing us, used silence instead of a torrent of words, edited ruthlessly from three hours, we might feel something.

If the director had used theatrical devices, subtlety and suggestions of violence rather than attempting to recreate real beatings, we might have felt more.

 Three central characters, a female Jewish doctor, a homosexual German youth and an Aussie soldier, speak in prolonged monologues between scenes.

There are several strong performances amongst a cast of fortyish that seems to be mostly inexperienced actors. As a German officer, Peter Heward finds a balance between compassion and brutality. 

John Morris is credible as the Aussie digger. Jenny Lovell is the only actor who makes the monologues work. As the Jewish doctor assisting Mengele in his awful experiments on children and twins, she is warm and believable.

The relationship between her and her fellow  prisoner-doctor, (Carmen Warrington) is filled with sadness and human compassion.

Playing Heinz, the German homosexual, Jonathan Kovac shows promise.  John Tarrant as the murderous Dr Mengele, plays low-key villainy which could work if he were audible.

The structure of the play is clumsy. The three stories need editing and more complex linking. The entire first half hour could be eliminated by starting at the Auschwitz station. Any information could be incorporated into dialogue.

The too numerous scene changes involve unnecessary movement of furniture which is covered, but not excused, by music. Too many short scenes are not compensated for by those that are too long such as that in which three men hoist bodies into the furnaces of the crematorium.

Kate Herbert

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