Bertolt Brecht’s Fear and Misery of the Third Reich does pretty much what it says on the tin, but in Aequitas’ new revival, there’s a twist. Selecting from Brecht’s collection of short scenes set in Nazi Germany, the production sticks to the source material, but also takes the opportunity to draw parallels with the depressing post-2016 world in which Trump and Brexit continue to loom ever larger.
The link is obvious to anyone who’s willing to see it – both Trump and Brexit were the result of a democratic process, as was Hitler, and there are clear similarities to be found in the powerful rhetoric of fear used in all three cases. Though the characters remain Germans living under the Nazi regime, the actors are all in modern dress, and sporting accessories including a MAGA cap and a save our NHS badge (“I should put on my Iron Cross,” says one of the men at one point, as he hastily dons his “Brexit means Brexit” badge). To make sure we get the point, we’re also treated to scene change soundbites from and about Trump and co.
Director Rachael Bellis doesn’t try to claim we’ve reached the levels of (justified) paranoia experienced by Brecht’s characters, but she does suspect it’s where we’re headed if action isn’t taken: a world where parents fear being turned in by their children, where a throwaway comment can cost lives, and where a Jewish wife is forced to leave her husband and flee the country in order to save them both. It’s easy to shake our heads and claim such things could never happen here – but then two years ago, how many of us honestly thought Trump would be in the White House, or that anyone in the UK who speaks out against Brexit would be dubbed a traitor in the press?
The cast of six interact well with each other (and, on occasion, the audience) as a variety of characters of different ages and backgrounds. In the first of two scenes that feel closest to our current reality, Clark Alexander and Hugo Trebels face off in an intense debate between an SA thug and his cook’s brother; while the latter clearly has the upper hand in terms of logic and reason, it’s worth nothing when all his adversary need do is draw a chalk cross on his back to ensure he’ll be arrested. In the other, Rhiannon Sommers stands out with a heartbreaking performance as a Jewish woman trying to explain to her husband why she must leave the country, and by extension their marriage.
It’s not all doom and gloom; the play ends abruptly with a shout of “NO!” from a group of protesters getting organised to fight back. Even so, the play’s title is an apt description; we may not be in the Third Reich, but the fear and misery are all too real.
Fear and Misery of the Third Reich is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 3rd February.
Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉