Best known for their adaptations of literary classics, Arrows & Traps have taken a different approach in their latest production, The White Rose. An original piece written and directed by Ross McGregor, based on Richard Hanser’s A Noble Treason, the play tells the powerful true story of Sophie Scholl who, along with her brother Hans, was the leader of a resistance group – known as the White Rose – and was arrested and executed in 1943 for distributing leaflets denouncing Hitler’s regime. The structure of the play interposes scenes of Sophie’s interrogation with the story of the White Rose, telling an extraordinary tale of courage in the face of tyranny, and posing some important questions that resonate now more than ever with a modern day audience.
First of all, to anyone who fears that the company moving away from its roots was a bad idea, let me put your mind at rest: I think it’s very possible that The White Rose is the Arrows’ best show yet. It’s certainly the one that’s had the biggest impact on me personally – although leaving the theatre I couldn’t quite decide if I was sad, inspired, furious or terrified at the state of the world (both past and present).
The outstanding ensemble cast don’t put a foot wrong – both metaphorically and literally; like all Arrows productions, this is a play where every movement has meaning – and make us feel every emotion: there’s desperation and anger in abundance, but in lighter moments we’re also given the chance to appreciate the optimism and camaraderie of young people who want to make the world a better place. And through it all runs fear: the fear of being caught, of speaking out, of losing friends – but on the other side of the scales sits the fear of keeping quiet and what that could potentially lead to.
From Christopher Tester’s conflicted Gestapo officer Robert Mohr to Pearce Sampson’s quietly courageous Christoph Probst; Conor Moss’ witty Alexander Schmorell to Will Pinchin’s intense, furious Hans Scholl, every character has their own voice, and their own reason for behaving as they do. But above all, this is Sophie’s story, and just as she’s welcomed into her brother’s group of friends, Lucy Ioannou proves to be a fantastic new recruit to the Arrows family, balancing perfectly Sophie’s youth, wit and innocence with the courage and moral strength that will lead her to risk everything for what’s right.
With resident Movement Director Will Pinchin taking to the stage as Hans, Roman Berry seamlessly takes up the mantle, producing thrilling, immaculately choreographed dreamlike sequences reminiscent of the company’s earlier work. The cinematic quality of the play is further enhanced by the inclusion of video footage at the beginning of each act, which shows chilling scenes of Hitler addressing adoring crowds, and drives home more powerfully than any words the impossibility of what the White Rose is trying to do.
The script teases out parallels between 1943 and 2018, without beating us around the head with them, and also makes a point of reminding us that Nazism wasn’t always death camps and terror in the streets; Hitler came to power on the promise of rebuilding Germany, and everyone – including Sophie and Hans – believed him. The play celebrates and acknowledges the White Rose’s sacrifice, but at the same time attempts to understand why everyone else stayed silent even when things went bad. Some, like Sophie’s fiance Fritz (Freddie Cambanakis), feared the repercussions of resistance; some, like her cellmate Else (Cornelia Baumann) optimistically believed it would all soon be over; others, like Gestapo officer Mohr, genuinely thought Hitler had made things better. In allowing these characters to have their say, the play becomes something far more complex than simply good versus evil, and is all the richer for it.
Despite being very well known in Germany, very few of us here in Britain know the story of Sophie Scholl. The White Rose aims to set that right with this powerful, emotional tribute, but also seizes the opportunity to explore the many unnerving similarities between then and now. It’s uncomfortable, and devastating, and you should definitely go and see it.
The White Rose is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 4th August.
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