Review: A Nazi Comparison at Waterloo East Theatre

Based on Schlageter by Hanns Johst – Hitler’s favourite playwright – Craft Theatre’s A Nazi Comparison makes some solid points and clearly has good intentions. I really wanted to like it, but an unnecessary excess of drama makes it difficult to see past the tears and shouting to get to the message behind.

Clare is a PR student at UCL preparing for a big presentation, but after one of her lecturers lends her a copy of Schlageter and she falls for a guy at a Grenfell protest, she starts looking into the unnerving similarities between Nazi propaganda and the rhetoric of today’s press. It doesn’t take long for her to realise that if you replaced “Jews” with “Muslims” in the speeches, it sounds very much like something Donald Trump would say. In the end, unable to stomach the idea of joining a PR machine that knowingly misleads the public, she withdraws from her degree course in sensational fashion.

So far, so good. After we’re treated to a short video presentation about the unfair representation of Jeremy Corbyn by the British media, Louise Goodfield delivers Clare’s fateful presentation with genuine passion – and even if it does start to feel a bit like we’ve wandered into a political rally rather than a play, you can’t help but admire her for having the courage of her convictions and standing up for what she believes is right. Unfortunately, her mum (Helen Foster) doesn’t even attempt to feel the same way, and it’s not long before the two are embroiled in a screaming row – not their first or last of the evening – about all the ways she’s endangered her future. Nor is her mum the only one who can’t understand her decision, and soon Clare finds herself living in a squat with Craig (Craig Edgely), the guy from the Grenfell protest. This goes well for a while – the exact timeframe of the play is unclear – until Craig decides group leader Lucas (Lucas John Mahoney) and his strategy of peaceful protest aren’t working for him any more. Cue more shouting and a dramatic off-stage twist, followed by an even more dramatic on-stage finale.

All this drama starts to get in the way more and more as the play enters its second hour. Nobody seems capable of having a rational discussion; every conversation quickly turns into an argument, with people shouting over each other, sobbing, wailing and generally being far more melodramatic than seems necessary. By the end, it’s all unfortunately a bit of a mess, and not at all clear any more what point is being made, who we’re supposed to be supporting or why.

All that said, there are some very touching scenes between Clare and her dad (Thomas Thoroe), who unlike his ex-wife at least tries to understand where his daughter’s coming from. The physical ensemble work is very slick, particularly in the montage sequence (a bizarrely timed comic interlude) and after each scene, when the cast somersault across the stage like ninjas to get in position for the next. And there’s no faulting the conviction of the company; I would just have liked a bit less raw emotion and a bit more rational debate to help me understand what, beyond the obvious Nazi comparison, I was meant to be taking away.

A Nazi Comparison is at Waterloo East Theatre until 29th October.

Review: Beautiful Little Fools at the Cockpit Theatre

Beautiful Little Fools is the debut production from all-female company Optic Theatre – and it’s clear they mean business. Intense, brutal and with a conclusion that’s genuinely quite traumatic, the show takes an everyday situation to the ultimate horrifying extreme, showing what human beings are capable of when exposed to a relentless stream of hatred and lies.

Three young women wake up in a room, with no idea of how they got there or even who they are. There’s no way of leaving, and each of them is wearing an electric ankle bracelet that delivers a painful shock every time they step out of line. Every day they’re forced to listen to disembodied voices – which we recognise as those of public figures including Margaret Thatcher and Donald Trump – discussing the danger posed by immigrants. And then a new girl arrives…

I’d love to say this story is far-fetched – and of course it is, in the sense that the British government doesn’t really have bunkers full of terrified prisoners who are being slowly radicalised (or at least let’s hope not). But the way in which the girls are manipulated in their torture chamber/Big Brother house is unnervingly familiar, and with people like Katie Hopkins advocating “final solutions” in the mainstream media, the play’s shocking climax doesn’t seem like such a wild stretch of the imagination.

Anna Marshall’s production successfully depicts the passing of time (though exactly how much is hard to tell), with movement sequences between scenes that demonstrate the captives’ mind-numbing routine. Each time we come back to them, they’ve lost a little more of their humanity, as they play mind games, form alliances and turn on each other in their desperation to survive the ordeal. In 60 gripping minutes, Jemma Burgess (who also wrote the play), Sophia Hannides, Isabel Goldby-Briggs and Jessica Collins take us on a rollercoaster ride through shock, fear, anger, hysteria and hatred – but also some deeply moving moments of vulnerability that remind us these young women are human beings just like us, whatever they may find themselves driven to do.

The play unflinchingly exposes its audience to the same treatment as its characters. We listen to the same abhorrent recordings at least three or four times, and endure flashing lights, high-pitched tones and crackling electricity (courtesy of sound designers Dan Bottomley and Davide Vox). It’s deeply unsettling, even for just an hour, and makes it easy to believe that after days, weeks or even months of this treatment, the girls might be willing to do just about anything to gain their freedom.

Beautiful Little Fools is an exciting debut from Optic Theatre, a thrilling and disquieting reminder of the power of words to change hearts and minds, for better and for worse. It would perhaps have been easy to dismiss as impossible a couple of years ago – but with hate crimes on the rise, Brexit going ahead and Trump in the White House, the play is not only timely; it’s terrifying.

The Cockpit Theatre run of Beautiful Little Fools is now over, but visit Optic Theatre’s website or follow them on Twitter for updates.