Watermill - Mr & Mrs Schultz
30th March to 3rd April 2004, and on tour.
By Newbury Theatre.
Alex Jones' play is set in Argentina in 1946, with a Nazi war criminal and his wife arriving at a hotel as the first step in their 'rehabilitation' under their new identity of Mr & Mrs Schultz. Their mentor at the hotel is Hanna Richter, another German who had helped Mengele at Auschwitz, and who falls for the attractions of the charismatic Mr Schultz.
The play looks at how one person can have a disproportionate influence on others. How were the German people so swayed by rhetoric and personality that they could condone or, worse, approve what was being done to the Jews?
It's a powerful and thought-provoking production, with excellent acting from Emily Wood as Hanna, Nicola Delaney as Lotte Schultz and Michael Strobel as Oscar Schultz. The twist at the end of Act 1 was, to me, totally unexpected, although Act 2's twist was more obvious. I don't want to give the plot away by saying more, but Ade Morris's demanding production is definitely worth a visit when it comes to a village hall near you soon.
From the Newbury Weekly News.
Should this horror tour the villages?
Mr and Mrs Schultz, at The Watermill, from Tuesday, March 30 to Saturday, April 3 and on tour
This fictional story of what happens to Mr and Mrs Schultz, a German couple escaping to Argentina in the aftermath of the Second World War is well written, well acted, well lit and well directed by Ade Morris.
To sit through it is an appallingly dark, sickening experience.
In a recent interview playwright Alex Jones said that he wanted to make people think about the terrible things which still take place all over the world, to ensure that lessons are learnt from history.
This is not the way to do it. The minds of those who watch his play will be confused by the excessive, relentless violence, not of action, but by the too vivid descriptions of the tortures inflicted by Mengele, the 'Angel of Death' of Auschwitz.
For those people whose families were directly affected by war it will be a too painful reminder of that which they cannot forget but have to suppress in order to get on with everyday life.
The evening is one of contrasts - the blonde Aryan Lotte Schultz (Nicola Delaney), a woman of simple pleasures hero-worshipping her husband Oscar (Michael Strobel) who finds her irritating - and their dark, ever-helpful landlady Hanna Richter (Emily Wood), still a professed fanatical admirer of the Fuehrer.
All three actors bring a chilling realism to their roles, with Emily Wood giving an outstanding performance as she cossets the ailing Mr Schultz. Lawrence Doyle's lighting enhancing the simple bedroom set was so sympathetic it almost became another character.
The first half of the play has all the intrigue of an Agatha Christie thriller and during the interval the talk was of deciding what the twist, for twist there undoubtedly was, would be.
I will not reveal the answer.
It is sufficient to say that there comes a point in the second half when the 'thriller' atmosphere changes and the nightmare begins.
I seriously question the decision to take this play on tour of the villages.
I am not an upholder of the nanny state, but Jones' aim to inspire people to learn lessons from history and the excellent Watermill's laudable wish to interest people in theatre will not be served by inflicting horrifying explicit descriptions of torture on those who have bought tickets to support a village function.
A few people walked out of the theatre last Wednesday. I do not blame them. I still feel tainted by what I saw that evening but, most hideous of all, is the fact that the terrible tortures described so explicitly all took place. This does not mean that they should be paraded in the name of entertainment.
Newbury Theatre editorial comment.
I would not normally comment on another review, but the Newbury Weekly News review above is so strongly worded that I feel some further comment is needed.
There were times during Act 1 where I felt uneasy about the message that seemed to be coming across. There were times during Act 2 where I felt uneasy about the violence. The emphasis in Act 2 on retribution - the application of Mosaic law rather than Jesus' doctrine of forgiveness - is unsettling ("an eye for an eye" is very appropriate here). But "those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it"; we see more and more examples of this nowadays. To me, the immediacy of this play brought home the horrors of what happened in the past, and the message that we must not repeat them, in a way that that television documentaries don't (the only comparable experience I've had recently was a visit to Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam).
The Watermill are brave to tour this production; I agree with the NWN that it will not be universally well received in the village halls. I have been to village hall productions of other Watermill tours and been surprised at the reactionary response to some of them. But nevertheless, do go and see it, when it comes to a hall near you, but go with an open mind.
You can read a three-star review by WhatsOnStage ("Maybe Home Counties audiences need to confront these horrors. But I question whether such an unrelenting onslaught is the most effective way.") and there are audience comments too, including this: "Really truly one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Quite, quite stunning."
Letter in the Newbury Weekly News.
Touring theatre is what villages want
Contrary to the views recently expressed in your arts pages review, the current production of the Watermill On Tour is just what the villages want. Rural living does not always mean being a reactionary traditionalist.
Recently, Mr and Mrs Schultz came to Brimpton. The distinctive Watermill Theatre van arrived mid-afternoon and magically transformed the village hall into a vibrant theatre.
By 7.30 the auditorium was completely full and, in the same professional manner with which they had built their set, the actors started to unfold this compelling drama.
We watched the arrival of the mysterious German couple in Argentina move increasing familiarity with their enigmatic housekeeper, Mrs Richter, through seemingly sympathetic racialist outburst, coupled with overt sexual overtures.
As the true identity of Mr and Mrs Schultz became more apparent, Mrs Richter in a style reminiscent of Jean in Strindbergs Miss Julie shifted the master/servant balance of power to herself. Nobody watching the ensuing acts of revenge and retribution as Mrs Richter revealed her true identity, could fail to draw the obvious parallels with the current shocking exposures in the news of similar acts of violence and revenge.
It was, indeed, a very moving experience and closed to appreciative applause. Two hours later the theatre had been miraculously folded back into its van, the truly professional and amiable actors and crew had departed, and Brimpton Village Hall returned to its ordinariness but this had been no ordinary experience that had been witnessed there.