Way To Heaven

Tue 5th – Sat 9th May 2015

reviews

Emma Ansell

at 10:38 on 6th May 2015

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‘Way to Heaven’, directed by Frank Martin, is a subtle, cohesive production, possessing both pace and clarity, that respectfully addresses not only the brutality of the Nazi regime but also the humanity of its victims. As an audience member approaching a play about Nazi Germany and Concentration camps, there is a degree of hesitancy. The rawness of the subject, and the historical reality of the deaths of millions, necessitates a degree of sensitivity. ‘Way to Heaven’ is a compelling piece of theatre. There is a thoughtfulness in its gradual shifts in energy, that allows an audience member to immerse themselves in the production and emotionally engage with the human suffering that is depicted. It is a play that demands tight control in moving back and forth between layers upon layers of reality and performance from its actors, and the cast of ‘Way to Heaven’ achieved just that.

Simple yet effective staging allowed the actors to take precedence, and the small cast delivered a number of impressive performances. Heather Fantham, as the Red Cross Representative, delivered a strong opening monologue. She commanded the audience’s attention and successfully established the chilling atmosphere that would haunt the rest of the play. Her performance was rendered particularly absorbing by the inertia of her character – a testament to Fantham’s skills as an actress - allowing all attention to remain upon the subtleties of speech. This decision to prioritise the words, the very act of telling a story, from the very beginning gave ‘Way to Heaven’ a thematic consistency: this is a play that is both implicitly and explicitly about the construction of dialogues.

Will Bishop, as the Nazi Commandant, enacted a perfect strain of forced enthusiasm blurring the lines between charisma and fanaticism. Throughout the performance, Bishop’s expressive features gradually shift from active charm into cheery cruelty, and the real meat of the play occurs in his power-play with Gershom Gottfried, the Jew appointed mayor of the town, played by Toby Marlow. In the interactions between these two characters, flippant brutality, under the mask of a faux-Renaissance man, clashes against a suffering, a rage mixed up with pain and guilt, projected out of stillness. The polarity of these two performances, placed side by side, is quieting.

‘Way to Heaven’ is a production that is well worth watching. It is a dark play, but it is a clever one, and one that does not let you forget, especially in its small details, the reality that was the Second World War.

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